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- Start of Business
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
- QUEENSLAND FLOODS
- PRESIDENT OF INDONESIA
- MEMBER FOR BEROWRA
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Rishworth, Amanda, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Hockey, Joe, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Hall, Jill, MP, Roxon, Nicola, MP)
Goods and Services Tax
(Dutton, Peter, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
Paid Parental Leave
(Jackson, Sharryn, MP, Macklin, Jenny, MP)
(Abbott, Tony, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
(Sullivan, Jon, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Katter, Bob, MP, Burke, Tony, MP)
International Women’s Day
(Collins, Julie, MP, Plibersek, Tanya, MP)
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
NATIONAL CONSUMER CREDIT PROTECTION AMENDMENT BILL 2010
NATIONAL HEALTH SECURITY AMENDMENT (BACKGROUND CHECKING) BILL 2009
INTERNATIONAL TAX AGREEMENTS AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 2) 2009
AVIATION TRANSPORT SECURITY AMENDMENT (2009 MEASURES NO. 2) BILL 2009
AUSTRALIAN ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORY BILL 2009
AUSTRALIAN ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORY (TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS) BILL 2009
- TAX LAWS AMENDMENT (POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS AND GIFTS) BILL 2008
STATUTE LAW REVISION BILL 2010
NATIONAL CONSUMER CREDIT PROTECTION AMENDMENT BILL 2010
EDUCATION SERVICES FOR OVERSEAS STUDENTS AMENDMENT (RE-REGISTRATION OF PROVIDERS AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2010
- SPEAKER’S PANEL
- FISHERIES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2009
- CRIMES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (SEXUAL OFFENCES AGAINST CHILDREN) BILL 2010
- ELECTORAL AND REFERENDUM AMENDMENT (CLOSE OF ROLLS AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2010
- University of Western Sydney: Women of the West Award 2010
- Centre for Cerebral Palsy
- Paid Parental Leave
- Native Vegetation Legislation
Bass Electorate: National Bike Paths Projects
- Fisher Electorate: Palmview Residential Development
- QUESTIONS IN WRITING
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Mr OAKESHOTT (7:43 PM) —Before I begin, can I pass an observation that the day after International Women’s Day I am the only male MP on the floor of the chamber at the moment. It is a great reflection on modern Australia that we have a minister at the table, a shadow minister being very boisterous and active, a deputy speaker in the chair, a speaker and—no offence to the member for Newcastle—a quorum holder here, but more power to you and more power to Australia because of it. It is a great reflection—
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —And Hansard.
Mr OAKESHOTT —Yes, and Hansard as well.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms S Bird)—I think the point has been made.
Mr OAKESHOTT —It is a great practical example of the day after International Women’s Day.
I understand that the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill 2010 is the first part of a two-part reform process. This is part of structural change and I will focus on that in my comments tonight. It is also my understanding that we are expecting a financial bill with regard to electoral law reform. As I think any member in this place would attest, it is where the money flows that we have a great deal of interest in; therefore, I flag to everyone to keep a good, strong eye on the financials. I will make a couple of references tonight to this legislation being the first in a package of electoral law reform, both structural and financial. Whilst there is a level of comfort with elements of this piece of legislation, I think there are some deep concerns, not only personally but also within the community, about the financials and the way in which our democracy is being bought by too many people with an interest that is not the national interest but that may be a self-interest or a business interest. No-one in this debate speaks with clean hands with regard to the financial elements of what it takes to play in our democracy today.
I hope that we see this as genuine reform that upholds parliamentary democracy for the long term and that it is not about some short-term deal between the two major parties, in particular, in trying to wrestle for power and influence in Australia today. I start with the broad principle approach that all of this is a lot more important than quite often it is given credit for because it is the essential elements, the recipe, for what our parliamentary democracy is today. You only have to watch what is happening in a very interesting House of Commons debate at the moment, where we are seeing some push-back on behalf of backbenchers, both government and opposition, who are taking on the executive and taking on the philosophical questions around who really does run a parliament, who really is responsible and who really are the gatekeepers for democracy. I am pleased to see that debate in the House of Commons and I await the day when we have a similar debate here in Australia.
Having been here for only 16 months, I can say that there seem to be a great many norms that are accepted as part of, for example, House of Representatives practice, the way electoral business is conducted, the way rolls are kept and the way election funding is done. There seem to be an awful lot of norms accepted by the process and by Australia which are not necessarily contrary to but are certainly a long extension of some definitions of parliamentary democracy and certainly a long way from the original definitions around the very essence of the role of a parliamentary democracy. I know I am starting wide with some broad principles, but I think it is important when we are considering just how we structure a voting system and just how we allow MPs to raise and spend money. We do need to start wide with who we are and what we are and what we want to be.
I also say—it is probably unusual for an unaligned MP to say it after 16 months in this place—that I have yet to meet an MP who wants our democratic process to be the plaything of the rich. Certainly as individuals, there is a general belief that our democracy can be and should be better than that. Whether they be my unaligned colleagues or members of political parties, nobody wants the logical extension of that to be that the democratic process, the parliamentary process, is the play toy of political parties. I would hope there is a general belief and a general principle that it is inclusive of all-comers—members of political parties or not. I am not one to whack political parties around. There is a right and a role for association of members in this chamber to get things done but, vice versa, there is also a right and a role for those who choose to align based on issues. I would hope the process recognises that and the concerns I will express tonight that we are potentially just reaffirming some norms from previous systems that provide a substantial advantage to those who stand as candidates as members of political parties as compared to those who do not.
It is extremely concerning to hear conversations in this building about the next round of electoral reform that seems to be placing a greater ability for a member or a candidate standing for a political party to spend up to $300,000 per division, per electorate, compared to someone who is not a member of a political party, who looks like having their spending capped at $100,000. If that is the dirty deal that is being done behind the chair, I think that is a disgrace. I would hope anyone in this place, regardless of whether they are a member of a party or not, particularly the backbenchers from both sides, would give some push-back on this. As hard and as uncomfortable as it is to give up the advantage that money provides, I would hope that push-back comes from across the party lines and says, ‘No, in the long-term interests of our system of government, of our democracy, of our parliamentary democracy, it is in all our long-term interests that the amount raised and the amount spent and the way that is accounted for is fair and equitable to all.’ I do not think it is asking too much for unaligned or aligned members to have the same rules.
The example that I currently use is the September 2008 Lyne by-election. There was a period of, I think, 30 to 60 days during which all the candidates had to declare how much they raised and how much they spent in that Lyne by-election. Please do not take this as me having a crack at one political party. There was really only one major party that stood. I would suspect all would have been guilty if they had stood. However, the party in question and the individual involved as a candidate were able to declare ‘zero’ on their Lyne by-election return under the guise of some global annual return that came out early in February. None of us know the evidence trail—exactly what was raised for the Lyne electorate and what was spent in the Lyne electorate. It gets lost in the wash of this global figure. This is obviously to the advantage of the major parties involved who can argue a case that, ‘We are national parties; we therefore have national budgets, blah-de, blah-de, blah.’
There is, if not a legal imperative currently, certainly a moral imperative to allow a voter to know what was spent and to draw some conclusions or ask some questions as to why it was spent. To the credit of the Greens candidate in the Lyne by-election, she did exactly that—she declared locally. To the credit of Malcolm Turnbull, he did that in the Wentworth by-election—he declared what was raised locally and what was spent. There is an accountability and transparency trail wrapped up in that. I think that is the best we can do under a ‘buyer beware’ principle. I know, however, that there is still a great deal of frustration on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales because, 16 months after the event, an individual voter from that by-election can ask how much the major political party raised and spent but will still not get an answer.
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting—
Mr OAKESHOTT —It was the National Party, so it is not the—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Lyne indicated he wanted to speak on general principles. I ask him now to come to the bill.
Mr OAKESHOTT —I am coming back to the structural. It is important because it is part of the package—it is financial and structural. This is leading in to the structural changes.
Again, the general principle I would hope we stand by is to be as inclusive at the ballot box as possible without losing the integrity of the rolls. I accept the position of the coalition, post-2006, about the importance of the integrity of the rolls, but I do not see this change, going back to the pre-2006 rules, as directly challenging that integrity. I would hope we have an inclusive process. I think 600,000 people turned up to cast a provisional vote at the 2007 general election and were unable to. That is unfortunate. I would hope that we would have some back processes, whether based on signatures or any other means or improvements in technology, which would allow provisional voting to be a valid way to vote. If that is the fundamental change that we are seeing, then I do not see that as a change which will cause the world to collapse if it goes through.
I understand that there are some changes to pre-poll voting as well. There are changes to provisions requiring that pre-polling places must now include compartments for voting—these are to fall within the same definition as compartments used for polling on election day—and must have a ballot box for votes. This is acceptable. Voters can vote at pre-polling places within a division or at other places declared to be used for pre-polling as long as the list of voters is delivered to that place. Essentially, the four or five points on pre-polling are, as I said, eminently sensible on the surface. Unless I hear otherwise from others, it all looks fair to me.
There are amendments relating to processing of enrolments. I think there are some interesting changes worthy of note, including allowing 17-year-olds to register in specified circumstances. There have been ongoing debates throughout my years in both state and federal politics on the rights and wrongs of various voting ages. I would be interested to see the detail of those specified circumstances in which 17-year-olds can now register.
The issue arising out of the Bradfield by-election is also worthy of note. That election saw an extraordinary effort by one smaller, but still very active, political party in standing nine candidates out of 22. Whilst the Christian Democratic Party certainly did not achieve an outstanding result as a consequence of that, I do also accept as sensible the change to restrict, at every election or by-election, each of the registered parties to standing one candidate and one candidate only. I think that is a fair and sensible change.
I understand there is very minimal impact financially. The cost estimate I have is for just over a million dollars, with savings over forward estimates of over $5 million. Most of those savings arise from more efficient pre-polling at the next couple of elections. I do not have a problem with this bill and I await the associated legislation with a great deal of interest. Whilst it is still in negotiation, I would encourage all members to reflect, and to reflect deeply, on whether this is a process about short-termism or long-termism. Is this process a scramble for power—a couple of major parties fighting over the title of ‘executive’—or are we, through these processes of electoral reform, building a better and more sustainable long-term parliamentary democracy in this country? I would ask for those negotiating on the next piece to keep a particular focus on that.
Whilst being fair through this legislation is uncomfortable and difficult, and I do not think anyone in this debate speaks with clean hands on any of this, I would hope quite sincerely that the focus is on those broader principles that I started with. Quite often they might sound boring and philosophical, but they are critical if we are building a better structure of detailed processes for provisional voting or pre-polling. Those broad principles do matter. In this case, without losing integrity, I accept that it is an inclusive process. When we get into the financials, I will have plenty more to say about some broad principles as well. I hope they are considered through the process of drafting that bill.