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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2060

Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (10:52): I rise to make my contribution to this debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 about Senate voting reform. It is worth noting that a fair bit has been said so far in this debate by some, but I think that a lot more information needs to be sought and more contributions need to be made in this space.

I note that we have a very interesting Senate. We have a Senate with a diverse range of parties and a diverse range of views. I am not a historian of the Senate but I would find it hard to believe there have been many Senates with as diverse a range of views as we have with the myriad parties we have today. I note that by bringing together people from different parties and with different views we are able to share views and evolve as a group. Yesterday morning, Senator Day, who is in the chamber, was at the doors of parliament holding a press conference with other crossbench senators. Senator Day said: 'As an individual I am a nobody.' I do not believe he is a nobody but he was making the point that as an individual he is a nobody but, when they all come together, they are a powerful voice. I thought: if having this debate about Senate voting reform can show Senator Day the bright light of collectivism and the importance of collectivism, then perhaps it has achieved one thing. To hear Senator Day talk about collectivism in a way that would make Senator Rhiannon proud was a sight to behold.

There are very different views in this place and many different political views have been expressed. The reality is this: my views and those of a senator like Senator Day are polar opposites on many contentious issues. On the basics, we all love this nation. We all love Australia, we all want a better Australia, and we fundamentally share core values about what it means to be Australian and what we want to achieve. But as to how that is achieved, there are different views. Someone like Senator Day will come at it from a much more conservative framework than I will. And that is fine. That is healthy. That is a good part of this debate. The reality is that a Senate that is made up of just a few major parties results in a situation where a diversity of views can be lost.

Senator Leyonhjelm is an out-and-out libertarian, and he has come to this place and expressed those views. I did not believe that I shared many of those views but, in working with him on the 'nanny state' inquiry and seeing some of the information he presented, he has convinced me that there are many instances where perhaps regulation it not always the answer. We have Senator Lambie, with her life experience and her passion and drive. Amongst the many issues she talks about are veterans issues and issues to do with Tasmania. Again, we are better off as a Senate for having this diversity of views.

What has actually happened—let us not pussyfoot around this—is that we have a government that is unhappy with the make-up of the Senate and unhappy with what they feel was obstructionist action. There are two points to make on that. Firstly, it was not obstructionist. The data shows it was not. Secondly, some people simply do not agree with your legislation, but perhaps if you had better legislation you would not have the same electoral problems and problems passing it through the Senate. It is not as if the Senate is rejecting proposals that are immensely popular out there in the community. Hundred thousand dollar degrees are not wanted by our community. The reforms that were being pushed, especially in the 2014 budget around healthcare costs, were not causes that were supported by the community.

We have a government that has a Senate that they do not agree with, that they do not support, and they have retrofitted an electoral process to get a desired outcome. Let us not kid ourselves. The most likely outcome at the end of this will be a Senate that will have conservatives represented by the Liberal-National Party and there will be the Labor Party, the Greens and perhaps very occasionally another senator representing a minor party. That is not, I believe, a good outcome. The reality is that minor party senators tend to be elected on smaller votes when they are first elected, and then they are given an opportunity to prove themselves. If they are able to prove themselves, they are able to use that profile to build on that vote. To phrase it a different way, it really is a sink-or-swim kind of situation. What we have here is a model that has been designed to defeat that.

We see the desperation of the government to get this legislation passed. Yesterday we had a situation where Senator Muir—another senator who comes from very different experiences into this place—tried to move to consider the government's own ABCC legislation. This was the government's own bill. The government voted that down and it was not even brought on. Then Senator Leyonhjelm tried to move to bring on the Greens' own same-sex marriage bill. I will be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that was in the name of Senator Hanson-Young. That was voted down by the Greens. Finally, Senator Lazarus tried to bring on the coal seam gas landowner rights amendment, which I believe was also in the name of the Greens. That was voted down.

The government has a view that says that this electoral reform is such a priority, it is a greater priority than actually having a debate about ABCC—which the government itself has prioritised. The government has been out there saying, 'The next election, this election, ABCC, this, that'. You have got government ministers walking the halls of level 2, the press gallery, openly briefing that there will be a double-D election on 2 July or maybe even the ninth, and the issue of the election is going to be the ABCC legislation. Yet they are afraid. They refuse to bring it here. They vote against bringing it here.

There is a whole separate question—and there will be others who will comment on this—about those actions yesterday in relation to the time management motion that led to this bill being debated today and what impact they will have on a potential trigger for a double-D election. I think there is a situation being created here where it is highly likely a lot of this will end up being contested in the High Court, if the government goes down the path it has been openly saying to journalists it intends to go down. We will wait to see. Fortunately, with this government, one thing we can count on is that what it says it is going to do and what it does tend to be very different from time to time, as I am sure you are aware, Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi.

But a diverse Senate, a different Senate, a Senate with minority views, a Senate with minority senators, is a better place, a better chamber. The political logic behind the government's actions is clear. The government want to remove what they see as a pesky and unfriendly backbench—sorry; crossbench. They certainly want to remove their backbench, but that is a matter for another day! They want to remove the crossbench and they have politically engineered a system that allows them to do it.

On top of that, the behaviour of the Greens in all of this has really been quite appalling. I note the leader of the Greens party, Senator Richard Di Natale, had a few words to say yesterday about me. I will certainly be taking the opportunity to respond in kind as we go through this morning, and I think there will be plenty of opportunity over the next couple of days. But this is a fallacy of an argument, a fallacy of a point. This is a political fix clouded in the rhetoric of democracy and choice. That is not what this is about. This is about a desperate Greens political party and political leader trying to solidify their own political position.

Let us be clear what the demographers, mathematicians, sociologists and others will say is the outcome of this. In the long term it will mean that a party with a vote like the Greens will be getting will solidify their electoral position. In the short term it will probably mean, based on previous results—again, if you are going to apply previous results—that certainly one of the Greens' South Australian senators, perhaps one of their Western Australian senators and perhaps one of the Victorian senators will not be re-elected. That is a matter for them. But the concern here is this—

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Senator DASTYARI: It is a harsh way to be removing your own senators, but politics is a tough business. There is a brutality in it. But the idea that says that a party that really benefited from a system that allowed them to grow, that allowed them to attract party support and like-minded party support and consolidate a further Left vote to be able to become a major party would then try and shut the door behind them and stop other political parties from being able to experience that kind of growth and that kind of opportunity I think is appalling. There is an argument that says, 'These crossbench senators were all elected on a very, very small vote, so that makes them unrepresentative.' Let us be clear. There is a quarter of the population that did not vote for one of the larger political parties and voted for smaller parties, and they are being represented in the Senate. There is a group of people who have a broad position which is, 'None of the major parties, thanks,' and that vote is represented by the diversity of the different parties that end up being elected in this place.

The past week has been an incredibly telling one, as we have seen where this relationship between the Greens and the government is really heading. Let us not kid ourselves. The leader of the Greens party, Senator Di Natale, has made a conscious decision that he wants to take the Greens political party to the Right. We have seen a kind of dance that has gone on between the government and the Greens over the past two months. Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi, I believe you may be familiar with the slippery-slope argument, which other people have used in this chamber before—that you perhaps start off with voting together on tax transparency laws and, before you know it, you are voting together on Senate voting reform, and who knows where these kinds of situations end up? When you head down that slippery slope, Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi, you can end up anywhere, as I am sure you are well aware. And that is what worries me. This is a slippery slope. If it keeps going, politics in this country is going to keep getting dragged down to the Right.

Senator Bilyk: I want to see the leadership in hair shirts!

Senator DASTYARI: I was actually wrong, Senator Bilyk—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): Order! Ignore the interjections.

Senator DASTYARI: I will take that interjection, Senator Bilyk. I was wrong. I actually thought—

Senator Back: No! Sammy, you've never been wrong!

Senator DASTYARI: I was as surprised as you were, Senator Back.

Senator Back interjecting


Senator DASTYARI: Mr Acting Deputy President, it is understandable that Senator Back would be surprised that I would be wrong. I was surprised as well. I thought this whole kind of mating ritual dance that was going on between the Liberals and the Greens was going to end up with the Liberal Party being dragged to the Left. I thought we were going to stand up in this chamber one day and Senator Abetz was going to walk in wearing his hemp suit and thongs and start singing Kumbaya, and Senator Bernardi and other more conservative senators in this place were going to come in tieless, wearing their T-shirts and being all Right. Instead, what we have is the Leader of the Greens political party doing fashion shoots, looking like the black Wiggle, in GQ magazine. Senator Di Natale was wearing male Louboutins. I thought I knew a few things about fashion. Clearly, I did not. I did not know there were male Louboutins. I did not know that was a thing.

Senator Xenophon interjecting

Senator DASTYARI: Senator Xenophon is pointing out his Target suit. Senator Xenophon will not wear a suit over $200, which is very different to Senator Di Natale. I believe the Star Trek skivvy that Senator Di Natale chose to wear for his photo shoot cost $269. How do I know this? Because the shoot was designed to sell designer clothes. All the clothes he was wearing had their little price tags attached, because it was a commercial shoot to flog off expensive clothing, the type of clothing that the people we believe we should be here to represent cannot necessarily afford a lot of the time.

That is why we are passionate about these issues. You talk about the one per cent. The one per cent are the people who are wearing $5,000 outfits, doing fashion shoots. The one per cent are the people who can afford the kind of clothing that Senator Di Natale is now modelling for free. And then he comes to this chamber and makes this argument about progressive politics, about progressive values, about what an amazing left-wing warrior he is. There is nothing more bourgeois than trying to pretend you are bourgeois to fit in. There is nothing more bourgeois than that.

Senator Back: You speak from experience, Senator Dastyari.

Senator DASTYARI: I am shocked.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): Ignore the interjection, Senator Dastyari.

Senator DASTYARI: I have been wrong in the past. Senator Back, I understand the shock and horror.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Address your comments to the chair, Senator Dastyari.

Senator DASTYARI: I understand Senator Back's shock and horror.

Senator Back interjecting

Senator DASTYARI: I would not go that far, Senator Back. This is a rort. This is a fix. This is a political process being established by a government that was unhappy with the crossbench. The fact that the Greens political party has gone along with it, frankly, I think is disappointing. I think there is a desperate attempt by the Greens party to drag themselves to the Right. I think they are giving up left-wing values, I think they are giving up left-wing principles and I think they are abandoning the Left of politics. People can do what they want to do. Let us not kid ourselves. I speak from experience here. You have to draw the line somewhere. This is coming from a bloke who did a re-enactment of a mobile phone on the ABC. When I say, 'Are you crazy for doing a GQ fashion shoot, dressed up as the cat burglar and pretend you support progressive values and politics?' Then you know you have gone too far.

When you talk about left-wing values and principles and the working poor and you dress in the type of clothing to sell that clothing—$5½ thousand worth of clothes and a fashion shoot—to show off, to look good, to try and be impressive, to dress up like the cat burglar of Australian politics, when you are prepared to do that, when that is the path that you want to go down, there is a word for that; it is 'ego'. And when you are prepared to sell out progressive values, to sell out progressive senators and to sell what is a Senate that has stood up for some of the poorest, low-paid, hardest-working Australians simply to be able to fit in and get that tick on the back, get that acceptance by that group of fashion connoisseurs then you are not a party of principle and you are not a party of values. What you are is a sell-out, and that is what they have become. This whole process has been about selling out on values and principles and it is about trying to get a short-term political outcome and retrofitting an entire electoral model around it.

I want a diverse Senate. I believe in a diverse Senate. I believe in a different set of views. I think this Senate has been strengthened by the fact that there are so many different senators with incredibly different views, different backgrounds, different political perspectives and different political philosophies working together and looking at legislation. I think the fact that this Senate has genuine conservatives in it like Senator Day or genuine libertarians or socially conservative yet economic liberal people such as Senator Madigan is a better place as a result. What I worry in fear is that, in the search of short-term fix, the government is behaving in a way for its own political self-interests. I am not surprised by that to be honest. I would have expected them to do so. I am surprised that the Greens—

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Just a moment, Senator Dastyari. Senator Whish-Wilson, I will ask you to withdraw that comment.

Senator Whish-Wilson: I withdraw, if that is what you would like.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you. Senator Whish-Wilson, you know that making that comment directly to another senator is inappropriate. Senator Dastyari.

Senator DASTYARI: Senator Whish-Wilson does not like it when some of us criticise the Greens political party and he is entitled to defend his political party. Senator Whish-Wilson is an incredibly passionate advocate for issues like banking and financial reform. I have had an incredible opportunity to work with Senator Whish-Wilson. I hope Senator Whish-Wilson is not No. 2 on the ticket in the double-dissolution election that is coming, because I would like to see him return here. We have disagreed on things. Frankly, I wish he was tough on some of these issues than he has been in the past. I wish he stood firm. I wish you were a little bit stronger on these issues. If you could stand with me, strong on these issues, it would be a better Senate. (Time expired)