Feb 24, 2016

Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:31): I rise to make a contribution to this critical debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, which has been rushed through the parliament and which will change the makeup of future parliaments for years and potentially decades ahead. There has been a dirty deal between the Greens political party and the Liberals to rush through legislation without any proper scrutiny. I note that the Greens’ deputy leader, the member for Melbourne, could not get through 15 minutes speaking on this legislation in defence of this deal and sat down after less than five minutes. That is a pathetic attempt, and I am not surprised that the member for Melbourne is not keen to have scrutiny of what exactly is going on here.

Let us be clear: this legislation does not relate to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters—which undertook a process in public, which looked at submissions, which considered evidence and then came down with recommendations. This legislation is a direct result of a very different process: a process whereby the Liberal Party and the Greens political party have come to a deal behind closed doors with absolutely no scrutiny whatsoever. This legislation was introduced into the parliament on Monday, after an emergency caucus meeting of the coalition on Monday morning. It was introduced into the parliament, debated in the same week and carried in the same week.

As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was leader of this House for six years. The process for ordinary legislation is that you introduce legislation on the Wednesday or the Thursday, it lays on the table to enable proper scrutiny to occur, the parties have their meetings the following week, and then debate usually commences in the sitting week after that. You then have appropriate Senate committee processes and examination of legislation to make sure that there are not unintended consequences of legislation, even beyond the ideological differences that might be represented in this chamber, to make sure that it is right. But what we have here is an abuse of process. What we have here is legislation that has not been subject to any proper scrutiny. It is legislation that is a fix to advantage the Greens political party and the coalition. It is a fix in which the Greens show themselves to be complete hypocrites when it comes to democratic processes. This is the political party that is very interested in having long, drawn out processes, Senate committees and public meetings. There was none of that with this legislation, and it is legislation that will change the very make-up of the parliament, particularly the Senate of Australia.

In Australia’s political system, the coalition tend to have the highest primary vote in terms of any of the parties because they combine the Liberal and National parties in terms of the Senate tickets. This legislation—on the cursory examination that has been possible in the last two days—is likely to ensure, more times than not, 38 votes over a period of time for the coalition in the Senate. The Greens say that they object to the privatisation of Medicare, the privatisation of our education system, the failure to fund public transport and the failure to have proper processes with regard to foreign policy, but the Greens are assisting a process that will advantage the coalition because of short-term opportunistic means.

When you are dealing with something as important as Senate reform, you need to make sure that you get it right. I do not support the gaming of the system with regard to Senate preferences, but there are a range of ways in which you could deal with this. One is that you could make sure that there is a threshold beyond which you could be elected. That is just one that has been suggested and I believe is worthy of support. Of course, it is a problem if people get elected with less than one per cent of the vote. We acknowledge that and we support change to ensure that that does not happen. But what we do not support is going down the road of the optional preferential system, which this would provide in terms of the Senate. What we do not support is having reform which will see an increase in the informalities of ballots cast in the Senate.

For a political party that does not try to appeal to working people and does not try to engage with anyone except for the elites that might be okay. But the truth is if you have a look at the sorts of levels that occur for informal votes, which you can see from the figures in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, they tend to be, by and large, in Labor held seats. We want to make sure that everyone is given the franchise, that everyone’s vote is counted. This will see massive amounts of votes excluded both through the informality process and through the exhaustion process.

In terms of the solutions to it, you cannot solve a political problem with a political fix, and that is what this is. If we are going to be honest with ourselves as the major parties, the political problem is that, increasingly in recent times, more and more Australians have chosen to give their votes to smaller parties—microparties, as they are called. That is a challenge for the Labor Party and for the coalition. It is a challenge for us to reach out to people and make sure we secure their support, not to introduce legislation that seeks to exclude people’s right to do that. Effectively, that is what this legislation does and that is what I am very concerned about: any process that will reduce participation in our political system. That is precisely what this legislation will do.

The hypocrisy of this. The Greens spokesperson on these matters is, of course, Senator Lee Rhiannon, who goes on about participation and democratic processes. Let us have a look at what the result of this legislation will be. It is very likely that the result of this legislation will be that the government will give increased consideration to a double dissolution election after or, perhaps, before it introduces a budget. Perhaps they will say, ‘We’ll make a major economic statement just after the budget’ and they will not really put their plans out there before the Australian people, because we know that their economic narrative is a mess.

A double dissolution election will reduce the quota. Instead of having to be one out of six, they will become one out of 12. What happened in the New South Wales Senate return at the last federal election? The Greens did not get a quota; did not get anyone elected. The only Greens sitting from New South Wales in the Senate is Senator Rhiannon. So if this legislation is passed and there is a double dissolution, Senator Rhiannon goes from needing to be one out of six to one out of 12. This is someone who has stood for preselection again and again. But the hypocrisy is there.

Of course, prior to being a senator, Senator Rhiannon was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council. As a senator, she still gets a vote in the New South Wales caucus, by the way. She can go along and they change the rules, because they run a pretty tight regime in New South Wales. This is what Senator Rhiannon had to say when she was seeking to knock off the New South Wales MLC Ian Cohen, a genuine environmentalist from the North Coast of New South Wales, in a preselection back in 2002. She said:

My experience as a Green member of the NSW Legislative Council has convinced me that one term, which in the upper house is eight years, is what we should be adopting for our elected representatives in this house.

She went on:

If we do not adopt some form of limited terms we will most definitely limit the number of Greens members who will have the chance of serving as an MP.

She went on to say that the Greens were committed to grassroots participation. And she said this—remarkable, a direct quote:

Indeed I believe that if we do not take this path we are breaking our principles and negating our roots. As the Greens grow stronger we will inevitably have people join us purely as a means to enter parliament as a career. A limit on the number of terms would serve to discourage careerists from exploiting our party.

Well, the careerist is still sitting over there in the Senate, having argued 14 years ago, when she was already a sitting MP, that there should be a limit of one term. She sought preselection multiple times in the Legislative Council and has now sought multiple times in the Senate from New South Wales, and has sought preselection again. Their internal processes are if you are not a part of the faction that dominates the New South Wales Greens and who refer to people like Bob Brown and Christine Milne as ‘Liberals on bicycles’—that is the attitude that they have—the group who proudly call themselves ‘watermelons’, green on the outside and red on the inside, are seeking another term, but now with this process will be one out of 12 not one out of six.

For goodness sake, to Senator Rhiannon, the member for Melbourne and the rest of the Greens, don’t you dare stay on your so-called high horse—the unctuousness that we have to put up with in the Labor Party from the local Greens in my electorate and others who carry on. I will make this prediction, Senator Di Natale has been asked about preference negotiations with the coalition. He has been asked very clearly, and clearly it is going on. And here is the fix: the Greens get preferences from the Liberal Party in seats where they think they might have an opportunity of winning—spontaneously—and they will not give them preferences back in those seats, because that would be a bit crude and a bit obvious. They will either do that or run split tickets in other seats, just like in Victoria during the last state election, when they produced a different how-to-vote card on polling day in some of the seats where they were handing out at prepoll—a different how-to-vote card on polling day, and they talk about transparency and wanting people to know where the votes are going.

The fact is that people will know that the Greens have been prepared to sit down with the coalition and enter into an alliance in order to secure passage of this legislation being rushed through. It will be interesting to see whether they are prepared to vote for the amendment moved by Senator Day, which he has foreshadowed in the Senate. It will be interesting to see whether they are prepared to vote for things like a reduction in the disclosure provisions for donations—something Labor has campaigned for for a long period of time; that has been our position and is something that was changed by the coalition. It is entirely inappropriate that we have legislation being rushed through today so that it can get across to the Senate. The Senate committee is already being established before we have even had the debate in this House—quite extraordinary provisions designed to undermine democracy. It shows the hypocrisy that is represented by this dirty deal between the Greens and the coalition.