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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2070

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (11:32): Mr Deputy President, as you know, the pivotal guiding and overwhelming document which dictates everything that we do in this parliament is the Australian Constitution. I quote from clause 7, dealing with the Senate:

The Senate shall be composed of senators for each State, directly chosen by the people of the State, voting, until the parliament otherwise provides, as one electorate.

This is absolutely fundamental and at the centre of the issue we are debating today—the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016. Section 7 says—and it demands—that senators be chosen directly by the people.

So Senate reform is about upholding the integrity of the Constitution and, if anybody need be in any doubt as to the fact that the integrity of this Constitution has been trashed, you need only have a look at the voting in Victoria in 2013 of the Senate in which one candidate received 0.51 per cent of the votes being 17,122 and is here today—and I must say makes a very, very worthwhile contribution. However, my point is that another candidate received 389,745 votes, being 11½ per cent of that particular vote, and that person missed out.

If anyone can convince me that we have a system at the moment that upholds the principles of the Senate and the Constitution in terms of integrity, then they will have a lot of effort convincing me. There were in fact 3,499,438 people who registered to vote in Victoria and, if you take away the 17,122, there would be 3,482,316 wondering where their vote went. That is why we are here today.

It is the case, as we know, that it is a fundamental principle of voting systems that a voter intends to vote for the candidate or the party with whom their final vote rests. Unfortunately, because of a capacity to manipulate the system as we now have it—as indeed the Hon. Gary Gray said in his contribution—the process now fails that test. The statistics I just quoted to you, I believe, are absolutely relevant.

What happens now for those who do not understand? Under the current system, we are only allowed to number one box when voting above the line—and 97 per cent of all Australians vote above the line; only three per cent go through the agony of trying to actually allocate below the line. But, of course, once we have put our No. 1 above the line currently, we then lose control of the allocation of our preferences. This is all done opaquely behind closed doors and you, the voter, have got no idea at all where your second or subsequent preferences go. Under the reforms, this will change. This group-voting ticket arrangement, according to deals that are negotiated, will go and so it should.

Because we have had the situation—and we have it now where it has resulted in some of the people being here—where a plethora of new single-issue and front parties, some with the same membership and office bearers as existing parties often lodging three different group-voting tickets, have actually manipulated the system. It has got to stop. It has got to be changed.

I have heard in this place the nonsense about three million votes being lost. If you take that to its logical conclusion, if you voted for a person in the lower house or you voted for a party in the lower house that was unsuccessful, the logical extension says that your vote was wasted. It was not wasted. You had the opportunity under our electoral system to indicate the person and the party for whom you wished to vote, and anybody who says to you that that was a voided or wasted exercise does not understand parliamentary democracy. Your vote was highly valued.

The electoral reform committee, on which I sat, following the 2013 election and then the rerun of the Senate in 2014 had three very, very fine Labor Party statesmen as members of that committee: the then senator the Hon. John Faulkner, who I believe was the father of the Senate at that time; Mr Alan Griffin, from the other place; and the Hon. Gary Gray, the member for Brand, from my home state of Western Australia. There could not be three people with more knowledge of the parliamentary democratic system of this country than those three, and I regarded it as a pleasure to serve on that committee with them.

The point I want to make is that they joined other committee members, of which I was one—I recall Senator Rhiannon and Senator Macdonald—and we were unanimous in the recommendations that that committee, under the chairmanship of the now Speaker, Tony Smith, came forward to the parliament to advise. The basis of that report and its recommendations have formed the principal elements of the legislation we are debating today. But why then do we have our political opponents on the other side opposing what was a unanimous report and recommendations?

I say to the young people above me in the gallery that one day they might end up interested in the horseracing industry, as indeed I am and which I have come from. There is an old saying in horseracing: 'If there's a horse called Self-Interest running, for heaven's sake make sure you back it, because you know it's trying.' If you have a look at the race book, and if you see under the ownership the name W Shorten, and if you see as the trainer P Wong and as the jockey D Cameron, for heaven's sake get the chequebook out, because, as you can see in this case, that particular party has totally trashed the recommendations of a unanimous report to the parliament and of three very senior people. I have not heard any criticism of those three. As quoted by Senator Xenophon in his contribution a few moments ago, some of the points made by the Hon. Gary Gray are absolutely prescient about this debate. I just felt very, very sorry to hear that man in his final words in his contribution on 24 February have to say, 'The Labor Party will be opposing this bill.' It is fundamental that this be passed.

For those who do not understand, how does it change? It changes in this way. Instead of just putting a 1 vote above the line, you now have the option, not the obligation, of putting 1 and 2, or 1 and 2 and 3 or 2, 3, 4 and 5, up to 6, so that you—not some gamer in the back room, not some vote whisperer, but you, the voter, and you in the gallery when you become voters; through you, Deputy President—will control your preferences so that you know where your vote goes. And you will not be one of those 3,482,316 people in Victoria who thought that they were voting for somebody else and saw a 0.15 per cent. Equally, it will be the option, as I understand it, that below the line a person will be able to indicate only the number of preferences that they want. That is to be debated in this place.

There is one other point which I think is very valid: the recommendation that the option be there to place the logo of the party against its name. We know that there are many people not of English-speaking background; we know that there are many people in our community eligible to vote, fine Australian citizens, who are illiterate; and we know from the experience of other democratic countries that the use of a logo or the use of different colours is valuable in allowing those people to indicate through the Electoral Commission where they want their vote to go. What is the outcome going to be? I do not know. I do not know what it is going to be; neither does anyone else. We might end up with two Greens from each state. We might end up with three Xenophons. I do not know where we are going to end up.

But what I can say to you is that the system at the moment is broken. The system is being abused. This is the essence of our democracy. At the moment, that requirement under section 7 of the Constitution that 'the Senate shall be composed of senators for each state, directly chosen by the people of the state' is being abused. It needs to be changed. It is very disappointing for me to see the political opportunism of our opponents simply thinking that they can wedge a scenario, when they were part of a unanimous report with recommendations from three of their most senior and most experienced and long-term statesmen. It is absolutely beyond me. I recommend this amendment bill to the Senate.