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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2214

Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (19:30): I have seen a lot in my time in here, but I have to say that something as shameless and slimy as the deal that has been struck between the government and the Greens just astounds me. And, my goodness me, the performance yesterday of the Greens leader, Senator Di Natale was extraordinary to say the least. First off, Senator Di Natale issued a challenge to Senator Wong and then gagged her for making a contribution. I just could not believe it. I know he is under pressure but, crikey, I would have thought that the pressure would not have mounted until at least Thursday—and hit it yesterday. How embarrassing for the Greens—but, even more, how embarrassing for Senator Di Natale, the Greens leader. The Greens also assisted the coalition in delaying the debate on the ABCC bill. Then the Greens, the bastions of progressive politics, said no to a debate about marriage equality and anti-coal seam gas bill debates. If the Greens had supported Senator Leyonhjelm's motion, the same-sex marriage bill would have been voted on before the Senate rises this week. Thanks to the Greens, this will not happen.

Senator Siewert: It is going to happen tomorrow.

Senator STERLE: The Greens are happy to support the government's ridiculous situation of a $160 million plebiscite. You are shameless. You seriously are shameless. You reckon a $160 million plebiscite is alright—$160 million of taxpayers' money. We in this place get paid $200,000 a year, and you think it is alright that we do not have to make a decision and you think it is alright to support that pathetic, weak escape hatch that will let the people decide after $160 million is spent. I have read quotes that it could be $500 million. I am not going to fall into that silly game. I do not think it is going to be anywhere near that but, at $160 million, you are guilty. You can scream as much as you like from the corner, but you are guilty.

You might ask what all of this was for yesterday. It was so they could sure up this filthy, little voting reform legislation to knock off the crossbenchers in the Senate. It is my belief that, as far as the government and the Greens are concerned, nothing else matters. Their grubby little deal takes precedence over anything else—and I have mentioned those other bills.

The government claims that this bill, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, implements the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its interim report on the conduct of the 2013 federal election, but this is not the case. This bill is not the product of the JSCEM recommendations. It is the product of their slimy little deal cooked up behind closed doors. I have heard the Greens carry on about cooking up deals behind closed doors and how they are going to stop it. It still rattles my head. I have no idea what they are talking about. They have just done one.

The government likes to say that this legislation at least implements the substance or 85 per cent of the JSCEM recommendations, but this is not true. The deal done between the Greens and the government is designed to serve partisan interests. It is as plain and simple as that.    These reforms aim to exhaust preferences early so Independents and so-called micro parties are deprived of votes.    Its objective is to prevent new players from entering the Senate, thereby entrenching the electoral dominance of existing players. Whether the Greens choose to acknowledge it or not, the principal beneficiary of the new voting system will be the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party's motivation for supporting this legislation is to achieve lasting electoral dominance in the Senate for the conservative parties and, over time, a lasting Senate majority in their own right.

As I have said before, if there is a problem with Senate voting laws, Labor believes that the appropriate response is for parliament to deal with it through a considered, principled and transparent process—not by rushing through an ill-thought-out piece of legislation that was conceived behind closed doors by the leader of the Greens, Senator Di Natale, and his best mates—Senator Xenophon and the Prime Minister. The outcome must be and be seen to prioritise the democratic rights of the Australian people above all other interests, especially partisan self-interest. There can be nothing more important to public confidence in the parliament than the integrity of laws which dictate who is elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 fails this test.

This bill was not the product of any principled and transparent parliamentary process. It is the tawdry outcome of a slimy deal between the conservatives and the Greens. The Australian public cannot have confidence in the coalition or the Greens, as this legislation lacks scrutiny, lacks credibility and lacks integrity. Integrity is something that is very important to me. Let us have a look at the definition of the word as explained in the Oxford Dictionary. It says: 'Integrity: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles'. Let me say that again for those listening and particularly those in that corner to my left: 'the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles'. The Greens, in joining with the government to rush through these reforms and in shutting down debate on issues that they claim to be their own, like marriage equality, have shown that they are neither honest nor do they stand by their morals.

In my previous remarks, I took great delight in informing the Senate of what could happen to the Greens as a result of the reforms and if there is a double-dissolution. I would like to remind the Greens and those listening that it could mean that we might be saying bye-bye to either Senator Siewert or Senator Ludlam in Western Australia or—it gets better—we might be saying bye-bye to Senator Simms or Senator Hanson-Young in South Australia. I put this contribution on social media and not at any point was I or have I been confronted by anyone who had a problem with what I said. Doesn't that say something?

I again have to ask the question: do the Greens know what they are getting themselves into? Quite a few commentators have said that the Greens have not properly done their homework on this matter. There has been a growing chorus of academics and analysists who have criticised this legislation cooked up by this sneaky new coalition that we have seen develop. Malcolm Mackarras has said that this legislation is: 'A filthy deal concocted by an unelected dud prime minister in the Greens Party'—they are not my words, that is from Mr Malcolm Mackarras—'a party known for its moral vanity.'

Do the Greens really know what direction their leader is taking them in? One thing that is very clear is that Senator Di Natale is moving the Greens more and more towards the right. Under his leadership, the Greens are growing ever closer to the conservatives on the other side of the chamber. This is not the first time that Senator Di Natale has sold out the Australian public via a deal with this government. First we had Senator Di Natale's sneaky deal with the Abbott-Turnbull government to cut the payments of part pensioners. Then we had Senator Di Natale's little deal with the Abbott-Turnbull government to water down tax transparency laws for multinational companies. Now we have Senator Di Natale's filthy deal with the Abbott-Turnbull government to alter the laws governing the election of senators, which will increase the chances of the coalition gaining a majority in this Senate.

As leader, Senator Di Natale has spent a lot of time talking about these grubby deals in the Senate chamber. For a party that prides themselves on fighting for a better Australia, including advocating for Indigenous affairs, climate change and asylum seekers, I am baffled by how little Senator Di Natale has actually focused his time on any of these issues in this place. Compared to one speech on Indigenous affairs, two speeches on climate change and four speeches on asylum seekers, Senator Di Natale has given a total of 16 speeches on separate deals the Greens have done with the government since becoming leader. In his desperate ploy to deal himself into political relevance he is dealing the Greens out of their political values.

In putting his desperate desire for mainstream media attention before the Greens' political values he is sacrificing his party's integrity on the altar of his own vanity. He continues in his words, 'At some point in the future, we will be a party of government,' Senator Di Natale said. I nearly wet my pants—sorry about that! 'Never say never' is the quote I would use about everything in politics.

Senator Payne: Sorry?

Senator STERLE: I will take that back. I should have said that I nearly wet my pants laughing.

An honourable senator interjecting

Senator STERLE: Do you think it is funny? I think it is hilarious. You might think that might happen, Senator.

On 9 March, Charis Chang wrote an article online at entitled 'Greens leader Richard Di Natale says the party will form government one day'. I did find this article both humorous and insightful. It extensively covered the views of Senator Di Natale as the leader of the Greens with respect to their love-in with the government. It also provided a range of views concerning the coverage of Senator Di Natale in the GQ magazine—a photo shoot with men's magazine GQ went live online at 7.00 am and has sparked comparisons to children's music groups, hipsters, Steve Jobs and one famous American folk duo, that being Simon and Garfunkel,' Chang reported.

Senator Kim Carr: They wore socks!

Senator STERLE: That is not fair, Senator Carr. When one reader asked who Senator Di Natale was following the article, another consumer responded by saying, 'He is that tactical turtle-neck guy.' Another tweet went on to suggest that, with that black skivvy, he could become the new member of The Wiggles. So in that vein, I say this to you, Senator Di Natale—and, as a father, I know this line all too well—Wake up, Jeff! Seriously, wake up. Senator Di Natale's approach is a world away from the view of former leader Bob Brown, who often talked about 'replacing the bastards'—and I am quoting Senator Brown's words there—'not joining them at the cabinet table'.

Bob Brown must be absolutely livid with what has become of his beloved Greens party. Senator Di Natale in the article later acknowledged that some people in his party would rather not do anything with the Liberal Party. He continued though, and said: 'But it is my view and the view of my party room that you have to put policy first and then the politics look after itself,' he said.

I do find this a bit rich. This deal has nothing to do with policy. It is being done purely out of self-interest and that is it. It is very interesting that Senator Di Natale has opened up the Greens to forming government with the conservatives. Greens senators ought to think very carefully about what their leader is signing them up to. Senator Di Natale is basically saying that Senator Simms may one day be on a joint ticket with Senator Bernardi on the Safe Schools program and marriage equality. Senator Di Natale is also saying that Senator Hanson-Young may one day be on a joint ticket with Senator Cash on asylum seekers and women's policies. Senator Di Natale has also signed Senator Ludlam up to a joint ticket—are you ready for this?—with Senator Brandis on terrorism laws and data retention. Senator Waters must have been delighted to hear that she may one day share Senator Seselja, Senator McGrath and Mr George Christensen's environmental policy. The mind boggles as to how the Stalinist senator from New South Wales, Senator Rhiannon, could even share a policy platform with Senator Abetz. But this is the direction the Greens are heading in.

I say to the Greens senators: if you do not like the direction that Senator Di Natale is taking you in then do something about it. Take 20 steps out of this place and publicly tell the Australian people that you will never support a Liberal-Greens coalition government. I dare you to! This new love affair, however, is not all rosy and peachy, as some might have you believe. While Mr Michael Kroger might have walked off the reservation a bit, conservatives from the Liberal right, including Senator Abetz and Senator Bernardi, are not as welcoming of the Greens as their party officials are.

Mr Jeff Kennett, in an article written by Joe Kelly and Rick Wallace in The Australian, said that a preference deal with the Greens was a 'major departure from what's happened in the past'. Senator Abetz has publicly and very clearly shown his disgust in the Greens/Liberal-National coalition. Most recently he said that he was alarmed that Liberal preferences had helped elect Senator Rhiannon in 2010, which sadly forced out my mate former Labor Senator Steve Hutchins. I would be alarmed at that too. I suppose in one way it is like a happy ending: the Liberals helped Senator Rhiannon get elected and now their parties are going to become aligned. I think Senator Abetz will regret that move.

Senator Bernardi went further and labelled the Greens a 'dangerous bunch of extremists' and warned they would never assist in the formation of a coalition government, a view which is quite contrary to that of Senator Di Natale, who said, 'He is confident that one day that mob over there will be a party of government. Please!

At the end of the day, the Greens have done a quick and dirty deal with the government to change the Senate preference system without allowing time for proper and fair scrutiny of this reform. This will ultimately lead to the coalition having greater control over the Senate and the purge of the minor parties, neither of which will be good for our democracy nor our country. We are opposing this grubby deal between the government and the Greens because it will purge the Senate of small parties and Independents, prevent new parties from ever getting elected, exhaust the votes of no less than 3.3 million Australians and risk turning the Senate into a rubber stamp for coalition governments.

Just for the Greens benefit, I want to enlighten them on entering into this slimy deal. If it is the case that the coalition are the winners out of this and the coalition get to that magic number of 39 senators in this place, or that Senator Xenophon may have a brain snap and want to back-in the government on some terrible IR issues, working people will remember you as the ones that contributed to the loss of more jobs in this nation. Whether we like it or not, it is no secret that the government want to get rid of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Congratulations if your deal delivers that, because you will have given another win to the government!

Let's not forget a very important factor. To the Greens senators and the Greens supporters out there in radio land listening to this: if you deliver that number of senators to the coalition, where they do not need to deal with anyone on this side of the chamber, you will be responsible, should Minister Cash follow her desire to emulate her political idol in, one, Maggie Thatcher, for delivering the death knell to hundreds of thousands of young Australians who rely and depend on penalty rates in the hospitality and retail sectors.

We know what Minister Cash and the government have done. They have flicked over the recommendations of the Productivity Commission. We are not stupid; we know what the Productivity Commission is going to come back to. Of course, it would be foolish to think that they are not going to recommend that penalty rates be adjusted, removed, changed, downgraded—whatever. If that does happen to the thousands of young Australians and other Australians who rely on the penalty rate system in the retail and hospitality industry to make ends meet, you will not have to worry about me standing here—the little, fat truckie from WA with the big nose having a crack at you; the rest of Australia will remind you at every opportunity what your slimy deal with the government can deliver in this chamber to hundreds of thousands of Australians who relied on us on this side who have actually had dirt under our fingernails and do not pretend to be the champions of the working class because we would never in a pink fit do a deal that would screw them over.