Transcript with Paula Tapiolas, ABC North Qld Thursday 19 March


Paula Tapiolas: Senator Ian Macdonald, good morning
Senator Ian Macdonald: Good morning Paula

Paula Tapiolas: How widespread has this discussion of a double dissolution been?
Senator Ian Macdonald: Well very limited, if it’s been held at all. I understand there’s some dispute about whether it was discussed, but certainly it’s not been very widely. I’ve never been involved in any discussions and I’ve never heard anything about it up until I read the papers this morning

Paula Tapiolas: how likely do you think it is that a double dissolution will be called?

Senator Ian Macdonald: Very unlikely, in fact it won’t happen, and there are a number of reasons for that. Under the current system, as you rightly said in your introduction, you need with six senators up for election in any particular election, you need about 13% of the vote to get elected. In a double dissolution, you only need 7% of the vote and that means there are a proliferation of minor parties and independents that come from a double dissolution. So it clearly won’t happen. As well as that, at the last election most Australians were angered by the fact that some people who got less than 1% of the vote, because of what was called a ‘gaming’ arrangement between a lot of minor parties and independents, two or three of them were elected, even although they had less than 1% of the vote. That means, that happened because people were garnering preferences from others and with all the preferences flows they eventually got up to the required 13%. But it was a complete farce and some of these people who were elected on that basis are now effectively holding the country to ransom. So the Joint Electoral Matters Committee had a look at that immediately after the election because of the anger from the Australian public that it could happen. They’ve made some recommendations that would address those issues, but unfortunately those new recommendations haven’t yet been introduced into the Parliament in the form of legislation. They will be and must be before the next election otherwise, again, you are going to get this lottery between the minor parties and the independents which just results in very strange compositions of the Senate.

Paula Tapiolas: some people might say that they’re entitled to their opinion though

Senator Ian Macdonald: well sure they are, but I mean we live in a democracy and in a democracy, the people who get the majority of vote are the ones that govern. Rightly or wrongly, that’s the way it happens. You elect a government, the government is the party that gets the most votes. But where, it is properly called gaming, it is simply a lottery and it is organised by Mr Drury who very cleverly worked out a mathematical way that you get all these parties to join this arrangement and one or two will get elected. They can’t say which one it is, but one or two of them will and it’s quite strange because you have this situation where parties from the extreme left end up preferencing parties from the extreme right. Christian aligned parties end up preferencing some of the parties that run on a free sex platform. It just makes a complete mockery of the whole system and it has to be addressed. Australians were very angry after the last election and it needs to be done. I mean we don’t like our governments but at least we must have a system where those who receive the majority of votes get elected.

Paula Tapiolas:  We’re with North Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald. Senator Macdonald why do you think we’re hearing talk of a double dissolution now?

Senator Ian Macdonald: Well, I’m not quite sure Paula,  I mean I think again what most Australians want us to do is get on and govern in the best way we can, and that means making arrangements with some of the cross benchers in the Senate. I have to say that two or three of the cross benchers are very, very sensible. I don’t always agree with their views but they do have real reasons for the things they do and they are very often open to negotiation. You have some other Senators who have just said they don’t like something the Government does so they’re going to vote against everything until the Government comes to the party on the one issue they had. Now that’s not what we elect people for. You elect people to go in, assess each piece of legislation, each decision that needs to be made and come to a conclusion. I think that’s what most Australians want the current Government to do. They want us to get out there and govern and if that needs amending things that we want to do, things we know are right but we need to amend them to get them through the Senate then I think that’s what people expect of us.

Paula Tapiolas: You would have seen the Senate take plenty of different forms during your time in office, is it any more difficult in this Senate than the make up of previous Senates?

Senator Ian Macdonald: It’s probably a little more difficult because there are now so many independents. When it first started, we had this farce of an arrangement I might say where Palmer allegedly had 3 Senators and then made an arrangement with another guy who got in on a very, very small vote and there was a block there. In addition to that there were four other independent Senators or party people but there was only one of them so it was a bit easier then. Now, if all of them are independents you have to negotiate with each one individually and they all have very different views. Some of them really haven’t had a long history of involvement in public life and so sometimes they have ideas that sound good but are just completely impractical. I was here when Brian Harradine held the control in the Senate and we had to work with him and through him and that had its challenges back in the Howard government but that was only 1 person and it was relatively easy to do. Now we need to get, I think its 6 out of the 8 independents to join with us to get legislation through and that is a real challenge. And I don’t think it’s what the Australian people wanted. I think when the Australian people went to the last election, they wanted a government that was either led by Kevin Rudd or a government that was lead by Tony Abbott and they knew broadly what Mr Rudd and the Labor Party stood and they knew broadly what Mr Abbott and the Liberal Party stood for and they made their choices accordingly. Now we have all of these independents and some of them, as I say, have quite strange views on life that really hold the country to ransom and the feedback that I get from people, they just think it’s a complete circus. They voted for Tony Abbott at the last election and they expect him to do the job but all these independents are just making it very very difficult for them as I say many of them have no philosophy, no platform, no policies. You don’t know where they’re coming from or what motivates them to vote in a certain way.

Paula Tapiolas: Senator I’ve also noticed though that in this job in the last recent years that there has been a public sentiment that parties vote along block lines and there’s less room for (inaudible) so they would like to see independents because of the personal freedom that independents have, so is there an argument then that there should be more independents?

Senator Ian Macdonald: Well no, because I mean people do vote for governments because they understand broadly which way they’re going. Now in the Liberal party I have to say we always do have a conscious vote on everything. We’re not regimented. I mean in the Labor Party if you vote against the party line you’re automatically expelled from the party. In the Liberal Party it’s not welcomed, it’s not encouraged, but we do have the freedom to vote how we think our constituents want us to vote and I’ve been known to cross the floor on a number of occasions and will continue to do so where I think the interests of North Queenslanders require it. So we do do that but we do it within the broad framework of a government that we support, we’re members of a party and people know broadly what our parties stand for, but in some areas, particularly where they’re issues that relate to something that is very dear to me I am quite happy to cross the floor. For example, I was incensed at the last budget to hear that without any warning this co-payment on medical visits to the doctor was introduced in the budget. It hadn’t been discussed in the party room, it hadn’t been talked about anywhere and I knew from day one it was bad policy, it impacted more heavily on those less able to afford it and it was something that I told Tony Abbott and the then health minister Peter Dutton from the very beginning that if it came to the Senate for a vote that I would not be supporting it. And so they knew that and I think that was one of the reasons why eventually that didn’t go ahead. But again I did that because I thought it was right and it wasn’t something we’d gone to the election with. So within the Liberal Party at least, you do have that freedom to act in the way you think is right in the interests of your constituents but with these independents nobody knows where they’re coming from, what motivates them and as a result of that you do get some very chaotic decisions.

Paula Tapiolas: Senator Macdonald I do need to ask, should the very unlikely event that the country does go to a double dissolution election, would you stand again?

Senator Ian Macdonald: yes, I would

Paula Tapiolas: for another term, after 24 years?

Senator Ian Macdonald: yes I would. Well I’ve just been re-elected Paula, for another 6 years, its 5 and a half years to go. When people ask me this question, I always relate the incidence of the American Senator by the name of Strom Thurman who died in office at the age of 101 so I say to people, look I’ve got a fair way to go yet. But certainly if there was a double dissolution, I would stand again and after that, who knows. Maybe I’ll become another Strom Thurman.

Paula Tapiolas: well I understand there’s the record of the father of the Australian Senate is 37 years, so …

Senator Ian Macdonald: There’s not the sort of records I am seeking to achieve. My real purpose in the Senate and always has been was to get a better deal for Northern Australia, to get the development of Northern Australia that I know is possible and could mean so much to Australia. I I want to see some real action on that. I’ve been a bit disappointed with our government to date but I’m told that the White Paper is not far away and we’ll see what that brings. But I do have this passion for Northern Australia, I know what Northern Australia can continue to contribute and to give an increased contribution to all Australians and I want to see that happen. It was something that I went into the Senate for, it’s something I continue to advocate for ever since and it’s something that I won’t rest easy until that actually happens.

Paula Tapiolas: Senator Ian Macdonald thank you very much for your time this morning.

Senator Ian Macdonald: That’s my pleasure Paula.

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