Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 - IN COMMITTEE


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (19:32): Senator Collins, with all the questions that she had, seems to have disappeared from the chamber, so I will take the call, if I can. Unlike some of my colleagues, I quite like Senator Collins and we get along well together in the legal and constitutional affairs committee. I have to say to my good friend Senator Collins: you will need to get some substance in the debate, if you are going to carry this on for a couple of hours. Quite frankly, I have never heard so much padding in any speech for a long, long time.

Can I just explain to those members of the Labor Party and people who might be listening, because this is a very serious debate: it is about our democracy and allowing Australians to vote for who they want to vote for in the Senate. I cannot understand why the Labor Party cannot see that. It is a pretty simple bill—there are a few other provisions but, effectively, it says: above the line, you can vote 1 to 6; and the 1 you vote above the line, the 2, 3, 4 is for a political grouping. If people want to vote 1 in the Liberal-National party box in Queensland, what that effectively means is that they are voting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 for the Liberal-National party team. If they voted 2 for the Christian Democrats team, it means that their votes 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 would go to the Christian Democrats. It is pretty simple—much better than the current system where you just put a 1 in the political grouping of your choice but then you just adopt the grouping that your No. 1 choice has registered with the AEC—a pretty complicated system.

People who voted 1 for the Sex Party did not actually realise that their effective preferences were going to the Christian Democrats and vice versa. That is because, quite frankly, 98 per cent of Australians did not understand that, when you voted 1 above the line, you actually adopted the registered card of your chosen political choosee and had no idea where it went.

Under this system, the people of Australia will actually decide who they want as No. 2, and maybe people from the Christian Democrats do want the Sex Party as their No. 2 choice—I would doubt it, but maybe they do. Now they have the option of voting 1 for the Christian Democrats; 2 for the Sex Party; and 3 for the marijuana league or whatever. It is their choice. If that is the way they want to go, that is it.

It is a pretty simple bill. The addition that arose out of the committee hearing a couple of weeks ago—the committee looked at this and recommended to the government that they should go one step further, which was back to what was proposed by the all-party committee unanimously just two years ago: as well as going above the line on a 1 to 6, you could go below the line 1 to 12 optional preferential. That means if, in Queensland, people want to vote 1 for me but they like Senator Moore—they do not want to give their second votes to another one of my political party; they want to vote for Senator Moore because they think she has not done a bad job—they can vote below the line. All they have got to do is fill in 12 squares. They can put me 1, Senator Moore 2 and whoever they like 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Their vote will be valid and then they choose who they want, not the LNP in that case or the Australian Labor Party in Senator Moore's case. The people choose, so what is so bad about that? How outrageous is that?

It is such a good idea that respected Labor Senator John Faulkner sat on the original committee and was part of the unanimous recommendation that this new approach be adopte Not only was Senator John Faulkner there but so was Senator Tillem and Mr Gary Gray, who we know understands these things. Gary Gray was the National Secretary of the Labor Party at an election a few years ago so he understands implicitly the voting system. Yet Mr Gary Gray, a Labor member of parliament, was one of those who joined with Senator Faulkner and unanimously supported the approach to bring in this new regime in the bill before us now.

You do not need to be very clever to work that out. It is a pretty simple bill. How it works is pretty simple—one to six above the line or one to 12 below the line, if you like. The people of Australia make their own choice. If you get a quota, you are elected to the parliament, because that is what the people of Australia actually want. I understand because of some very good detective work from some of my colleagues that the submission the ALP put to the first inquiry—that is, the organisational ALP—asked for just what we are doing now. That is what they asked for. I am told that the President of the ALP at the time was none other than Senator McAllister, who—curiously—replaced Senator John Faulkner when he retired. So Senator McAllister was the President of the ALP.

Senator Smith: Serendipity.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Serendipity, indeed. She was the President of the ALP and she signed off—or had her team sign off; perhaps it was then Mr Dastyari—on a submission to this inquiry saying: 'This is what you have to do. You have to have optional preferential above the line and optional preferential below the line. That is what we want. That is what we the Australian Labor Party want.'

Naturally enough, when it came before the committee the committee unanimously agreed. Certainly the three or four Labor members on the original committee thought, 'We think it is a good idea. Not only do we think it is a good idea but the organisational ALP in their submission also think it is a good idea.' They asked the committee to do it, so the committee did it unanimously. All the Labor people and everyone else supported it, yet here we are a couple of years later and it seems that the Labor Party no longer support it. We cannot understand why. Nobody has given us a serious explanation. My good friend Senator Collins waffled for eight minutes. She could not finish her 15 minutes and left.

This is an important piece of legislation. It is a piece of legislation that should be passed. What is more it is a piece of legislation that the Australian public want us to pass. In the aftermath of the last federal election there was palpable anger around Australia, not just from political parties but across the board. The people of Australia could not understand how their vote could be hijacked by the mathematical gaming of the preference system. A lot of the minor parties cross-preferenced and you had the very odd situation of parties of the extreme Left ending up supporting parties of the extreme Right, and vice versa. Nobody could understand how Australia could get into that situation.

This bill before us today is very simple. It makes it easy to understand. It says to the voter: 'You pick who you want in the Senate. Do not allow the backroom boys to do it.' I have mentioned this before and I will mention it again because people listening to this may not understand. Mr Bob Katter is the member for Kennedy. He used to be a member of the National Party, but he left the National Party in a huff at one stage and became an Independent. He said to his supporters: 'I am preferencing the Liberal-National Party. I still have my basic philosophies. It is just that I do not like the party. If you vote for me, your second preference will go back to the Liberal-National Party anyhow.' Many people in his electorate prefer our side of politics to the Labor side.

Mr Katter in the Senate had registered a card, as all the parties did. Very few people saw them. I had a look at them. I would be one of the few in Australia who did. When I looked at Mr Katter's card, I saw he actually preferenced the Australian Labor Party before the Liberal-National Party. He was denying around the state that he was supporting Labor, 'No, my preferences are going to the Liberals and Nationals.' If you looked at the registered card he had—and most of the people who voted for his team in the Senate would not have looked at that—you would have seen effectively that, with respect, you, Mr Temporary Chairman Ketter, got the preferences of the Katter party before the Liberal-National Party.

Those of us who follow politics know that that is a seat where a lot of people support Mr Katter because he is an old friend and they think he is a nice guy. He is pretty ineffective but a nice guy. They voted for him but expected that his preferences would go back to where they really belong, and that is the LNP. But, sorry, Mr Katter's card did not say that. This is the sort of thing that this legislation will stamp out. If the people want to vote for Mr Katter and give a second preference to Labor, that is fine but they can do it themselves. They do not vote 1 for Katter thinking that his preferences will go to the Liberal-National Party. They will in the future be able to exercise their vote. The people in Kennedy will now be able to vote 1 for Mr Katter's Senate team and vote 2 for the Liberal-National Party, or wherever they want to go. It will be their choice. How can anyone object to this? How can you argue against it? I know Senator Faulkner could not argue against it. In fact, he was one of the main protagonists of the proposal. I know Mr Gary Gray cannot argue against it because, again, he was one of the architects of this piece of legislation. I hope that Senator Moore or Senator Collins—if she comes back—may be able to explain to us the change of heart. Why was it two years ago you thought this was a great idea, Senator Faulkner thought it was a great idea, Mr Gary Gray thought it was great idea, all senior respected members of the Labor Party thought it was a good idea, the people of Australia thought it was a good idea but suddenly for a reason which has not been explained—and I will wait anxiously to hear the explanation—the ALP have done a complete backflip.

I can only think that Senator Conroy, Senator Carr and the big backroom dealers have suddenly worked out there is a way they can rort—and I use that in a political sense—the system and give themselves a political advantage. They are keener to do that and leave in place this broken system than allow this legislation to go through and give the people of Australia the right to make their determination of who they want to elect to the Senate. I cannot think for the life of me how anyone can seriously argue against that. I will be listening very intently to future Labor speakers for an explanation of why it was that some of their most senior, some of their most respected members of this parliament were totally in favour of this bill two years ago but now suddenly Labor is not.

As I said before, this has been fully debated for 23 hours now in this chamber. If you have not been able to make your point in 23 hours, Senator Collins, I do not know what another 23 hours is going to allow you to do. We have had this debate. We have had two full committee hearings. We have investigated it up hill and down dale. Everybody knows what it is about. Everybody knows it is what is needed for real democracy in Australia and for Australians to be given the right to select who they want in the Senate.

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