Commitees - Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters - Report

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:21): I congratulate the chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, who does an exceptional and, I think, quite amazing job in addressing the issues which the committee is inquiring into—in this instance, the 2016 election, in all of its facets. As Senator Reynolds mentioned, the committee moves on in a very even, balanced and bipartisan way under the senator's leadership, to look at foreign donations or donations generally to political parties.

I, too, was absolutely disgusted—Senator Reynolds is noted for her conciliatory approach, which is not always my approach—that the Nick Xenophon Team would vote today with the Greens and the Labor Party to set up this parallel committee. You don't expect anything better from the Greens and the Labor Party. They know that a fair committee under someone with balanced leadership, like Senator Reynolds, will look into the real issues.

It is a committee that comprises members from all political parties—as Senator Reynolds mentioned—even Senator Rhiannon, who we don't often agree with on policy issues. But I always admire Senator Rhiannon because at least she is true to her cause. She doesn't pretend to be anything but what she is. Clearly, that doesn't go over well with the Greens' political party. They have ostracised her. I can't remember when Senator Rhiannon was last given a question when the Greens have the call. It seems to me—and we don't want to get overly enthused on conspiracy theories—that one of the reasons for setting up this dodgy, if I might say, select committee to inquire into exactly the same thing as the joint standing committee is looking into, is that the Greens don't trust Senator Rhiannon to represent their interests anymore in that particular committee. So, as a result, the Greens, the Labor Party and Senator Xenophon and his team have agreed to use Senate resources, very limited as they are. Mr President, you can't comment, and neither can the Clerk sitting at the table, but we know that Senate resources are limited. There are far too many committees of the Senate set up for purely political purposes by the Greens and the Labor Party majority in this chamber, simply to operate as political voices for the Greens, the Labor Party and their left-wing agenda.

I am so disappointed—well, I am disgusted. 'Disappointed' is not strong enough. I am so disgusted with Senator Xenophon, who wants to be all things to all men and yet supports this ridiculous setting up of a committee of the Senate to inquire into exactly the same things, exactly the same terms of reference, as the joint standing committee. The joint standing committee has been in operation as long as I have been in parliament, and that's now 27 years. It is an institution in this parliament, and, whether it's chaired by someone as erudite and balanced as Senator Reynolds or it's chaired by a Labor chairman, it's always managed to approach its duties in a balanced, fair way, getting to the facts.

I haven't always agreed with its conclusions, because very often the Labor Party will stop any real recommendations in relation to personal identification in the electoral process. Everybody from the Federal Police down will tell you that, unless we can have a method of ensuring that people are who they say they are—but for some reason the Labor Party never want to deal with that. But, apart from that, my experience over the years is that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has performed a real purpose. It's a respected institution of this parliament.

Yet today we have the Greens and the Labor Party, as you'd expect, setting up this—I can only call it dodgy, sorry—dodgy committee of the Senate to inquire into exactly the same things. If it were doing anything new, anything different, that couldn't be done by the joint standing committee, then you might understand it. The terms of reference are slightly different, varied for clever reasons, but what the committee will look at will be exactly the same as the joint standing committee was about to start work on tomorrow morning.

I know that Senator Reynolds had called a meeting to set the parameters from all parties, from Senator Rhiannon, from the Greens; from the Labor Party; and from our side of politics, and I think the National Party were invited. They sometimes have a different view to us Liberals. Everyone was there. Senator Reynolds wanted to make sure that this was a non-political committee and that we actually looked at the real issues. Senator Ketter, who's in the chamber, is part of that committee. Senator Ketter, who doesn't often get involved in some of the shenanigans of the Greens and his colleagues in the Labor Party, understands that this is a serious committee looking for serious resolutions, serious outcomes, to issues that the parliament and Australians generally need to address.

Yet here we have this absolutely dodgy approach from the Greens, orchestrated by the Greens to get back at Senator Rhiannon, obviously, supported by the Labor Party—and I expect that. I've been here long enough to know that you cannot expect anything else. But Senator Xenophon always claims to be the voice of reason, the one who's so responsible, so even, so wanting to get a result, who doesn't want to play politics, and here he is, giving to the Greens and the Labor Party the majority to set up this dodgy committee to inquire into exactly the same areas, the same questions, as the respected joint standing committee is already investigating.

I would hope—someone said to me that they thought Senator Xenophon had been misled as to the direction of this committee today. If that is true—I can't remember who said that to me, and I'm not sure if it is true, but if it is true—then Senator Xenophon should be the one who comes to this chamber next time we meet and says he was misled on what that Senate select committee was all about. We should have another vote on it, and he should put his efforts into the joint select committee.

I have to say that, as I go around many inquiries set up by the Greens and the Labor Party and Xenophon in this chamber, I find that very rarely is anyone from the Greens political party attending. Very rarely, or never, is the Xenophon party there. Just going back to last Friday, it's a case in point. We had an inquiry set up by the Greens, Labor and Xenophon on the North Australia Infrastructure Facility. The inquiry finished and there was never anyone from the Xenophon party at the inquiry, even though they had provided their numbers to set it up.

What a dodgy inquiry that was. The Greens were there for a little while, but then they disappeared. They hear the witnesses they choose to call, but when the department comes along or someone else comes along to give a contrary view, the Greens all leave. This brings the whole committee system into disrepute. This is something I have spoken about often in this chamber, because I despair at the way that Senate committees are now being used for purely political purposes when, years ago, they were serious exercises that people used to respect and take notice of. Regrettably, that's not the case today.

I've digressed slightly from the issue before us. I support this report by the Joint Standing Committee on the 2016 election, or another aspect of it. It's well thought through, as you'd expect with Senator Reynolds as the chair. I know that the senators will use this report properly, because they know they can have confidence in the recommendations contained in the report.

I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.

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