Tuesday, 24 August 2021
Questions without Notice
Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Bill 2021
[by video link] My question is to the Minister for Finance and Special Minister of State, Senator Birmingham. The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Bill 2021 would give political parties the right to block new parties coming through if they had the same key words in their names as existing parties. When the Liberal Party was formed in October 1944, there was already an existing political party called the Liberal Democratic Party. If the rules you want to put in place had been around when your party started, there wouldn't be any Liberal senators in the building today. Does that seem fair to you, or do you think it would be good for democracy to let incumbents block their opponents?
[by video link] I thank Senator Lambie for her question. We have a robust democracy in Australia in which competition is freely and fairly encouraged. But it needs to be freely and fairly encouraged in ways that ensure voters make informed choices, have all the information to make informed choices and are supported and empowered in their choices. Sometimes people will decide to go and start other political parties. Senator Lambie indeed is an example of that. But Senator Lambie has always made sure that she has stood very clearly, very identifiably, in relation to her political parties, whether as a Liberal Party member at one stage, as a candidate and a senator for the Clive Palmer Party or indeed now, when she is identifiably the Jacqui Lambie Network. That's as it should be: clear, obvious to the voters.
The practice that has been increasing in recent times—some sort of political astroturfing by some individuals—is unhelpful to voters. It has been shown in terms of voting trends across some states to create confusion, especially when it comes to Senate voting tickets, so, yes, it is reasonable for political parties to be able to have their name protected, just like any other trademark has its name and brand protected under legal practices. That's a commonsense approach, and it's all that the government seeks to do, not to prohibit or to prevent anybody else from having the opportunity to contest an election vigorously but also fairly. And that's the intent of these laws.
[by video link] If this bill passes, small parties with small budgets would have to get rid of any materials that they've already produced with their current names or logos and pay to replace them all. They'd have to pay to replace their websites and they'd have to build a whole new brand in less than six months. Will you make any compensation to those parties who incurred approved political expenditure under the old rules and who will now have that expenditure rendered redundant, once Labor rolls over like a puppy dog and backs your bill?
[by video link] I'd make the point again that this is about simply ensuring that voters have clarity in their voting intentions and in the choices before them. I note that across the current Senate chamber we have, as I said before, Senator Lambie and the Jacqui Lambie Network. We have Pauline Hanson's One Nation party. We have Senator Griff, representing Centre Alliance, and Senator Patrick, as an Independent. We have the Greens, the Labor Party, the Liberals and the Nationals. Each is clearly distinguishable from the other when their names are presented on the ballot paper. That's all we seek to achieve and to ensure occurs in the future, and we hope and trust that all will see the common sense in that regard. It is simply a fair approach that's being put in place for our next election.
[by video link] The bill triples the membership requirements for parties, effective immediately. The minister says this is to test that political parties have genuine community support. The obvious question here is: isn't that what elections are for?
[by video link] Indeed, elections don't prevent anybody from nominating and from standing. They can stand as an independent—that is an option open to all Australians. But what we seek to ensure is that where people constitute a political party it has a genuine underpinning to it, that it is not just an independent, and that it has a base, a body of support and a set of beliefs commonly adhered to by its members. That is the logical, commonsense test that Australians apply when they are thinking about what political parties are, and that is all that these modest reforms seek to do. They ensure that we have that test in place in ways that meet the expectations of the Australian people. They expect political parties to be fair dinkum parties and the names of those parties to be clearly distinguished from one another, reflecting their individual identities.