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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2218


Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (19:49): The coalition and the Greens talk a lot about transparency in relation to the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 and they argue that it is necessary to make the allocation of preferences transparent and clearly reflect the will of voters. This is a particular irony because what has become really apparent are the motives that rest behind this bill's supporters. This is a bill that is not being rushed through the parliament with quite unseemly haste because the government want to create a more democratic system for electing the Senate. This is a bill that is being rushed through this parliament because the government are frustrated with the way in which the Senate has operated. Remember, this is a Senate that refused to allow the $7 Medicare co-payment, refused to allow the $100,000 university degree and blocked most of the inequitable measures of the 2014 budget.

The Turnbull government want to eliminate as much of the crossbench as it can because it is uncomfortable with what has actually occurred in these last two years and they now feel comfortable with its new best friend, Senator Di Natale. In that process, the government are not acting out of altruism; the government are actually hoping to shore up its own vote. It is pushing this legislation through the parliament to give it an option of a double-dissolution election in which the crossbenchers will not survive. The government are afraid that if they do not have these changes, they will see an increase in the number of malcontents that they cannot control. So the government have made a decision that the crossbenchers have to go.

I find it truly remarkable how this government have stumbled blindfolded into this minefield. It is quite clear that when this process started, the government thought it was riding particularly high in public opinion and it could ride out any opprobrium that would come from these clearly unnecessary and unreasonable measures. But, of course, what we have now discovered is that the government have not thought through the implications of a double-dissolution election in the time lines that they are proposing. They did not think through the implications of having to call a double-dissolution election the day after the budget. They did not think through the implications of having no supply and of having to try to get a supply bill through this parliament in a day. They did not think through the implications of a three-month election campaign fought in winter. They did not think through the implications of what it is like to go to your electorate when your position has deteriorated so dramatically in public opinion and when, on the best measures we have available, it would appear that the parties are pretty much fifty-fifty.

What we do know about first-term governments is this: the average swing against a first-term government is 3.5 per cent. If you look at the historical evidence on that, you will find it is the case. What is the swing required to remove this government? It is 3.4 per cent. With the government's indecision and its completely chaotic condition, it is quite possible that that may well be the outcome. This government has not thought through the implications of its actions in its desperate effort to purge the crossbenches, because they cannot get their draconian measures through in this parliament. As I say, they have wandered blindfolded into the minefield of politics in the Senate and, of course, sought to find a simple solution to what is quite a complicated problem. They have even decided to remove their poodles—the people they have relied upon for 80 per cent of the votes in this chamber. They have decided that they are dispensable. The ruthlessness of this position really is quite breathtaking.

Senator Day has warned the government about these unintended consequences. He has even suggested that he should take this matter to the High Court—and heaven knows he has got the resources to do so. Maybe that is another unintended consequence they have not thought about. Despite the fact that he has voted with the government 80 per cent of the time, Senator Di Natale says, 'Senator Day's remarks are made out of self-interest.' Isn't that amusing? The self-interest of the Greens in this matter is breathtaking. The Greens remain the major beneficiaries of the existing voting system in the Senate, and now they want to make sure that they deny the opportunity for anyone to come along behind them and replace them. What they want to do is to deal themselves into the power equation of this country. As I have said before, they are pretty much like the Democrats in many respects. There are a group of very, very wealthy people now who dominate the Greens. Inner city politics is run by people who are exceptionally wealthy. They have the best social conscience that money can buy, but they adopt an increasingly conservative position—which is befitting their personal wealth.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Senator Di Natale's appeal to be respected, to be loved, to be appreciated by the conservatives of this country should take on such vigour. We saw that in the interview with Senator Di Natale in GQ magazine just last week. In one of his answers to the journalist's questions about the Greens forming an alliance with the Liberals, he said:

In my view it's much more likely that the opportunity rests with Labor, but you should never rule out any possibility, though it's unlikely… 'Never say never' is the quote I'd use about everything in politics.

I am really quite interested to know what Green voters would say about that, because the principle of 'never say never' is not a sentiment that I have traditionally experienced in this chamber—certainly not from the work of Bob Brown and Christine Milne. It is an extraordinary proposition in many respects, because many of us appreciate the point of why we are actually in politics. We are defined as much by what we oppose as what we support. I noticed an article in the Herald Sun this week in which Shaun Carney wrote about Senator Di Natale's remark. This an article headed 'Flirting is a tricky game'. Flirting is a tricky game indeed for the Greens—with or without socks. It states:

Politicians are supposed to say 'never'. That’s why people support them. This is particularly so for the Greens, whose supporters are especially purist on such things as open borders, the undesirability of all military action, giving security agencies more powers and coal.

There are times when we simply must say 'never'. But apparently that is not the view of Senator Di Natale—not anymore, anyway. He is intent on dealing his party into power and his mantra now is 'whatever it takes'. That means he is prepared to do the dirty deal with the Liberals. He is prepared to deliver the Turnbull government the power to implement their inequitable measures from the 2014 budget. He is prepared to become the quisling of the hard right of the Liberal Party. Senator Abetz was reported yesterday as saying, 'The way you allocate preferences says a lot about what you are as a party, what you stand for and what matters to you.' It is not often that I agree with Senator Abetz but he is probably right about that. Every indication is that that is not the way the Greens see the world these days.

The president of the Liberal Party in Victoria, Mr Kroger, has spoken warmly about the prospect of an electoral pact with Senator Di Natale. He said, 'The Greens are not the nutters they used to be.' Well, Senator Di Natale, with the lack of candour that deserves, no-one is enjoying being courted. It is quite clear that that is the case. He does enjoy the courting game. He is openly selling his party's favours, such as 'never say never'. He was more than happy to have preferences directed to the Greens in inner city seats like Wills, Grayndler, Batman and Sydney

He can say, 'We'll never put the Liberals ahead of Labor,' but in those inner city seats it does not matter, because their preferences would never be counted. That is how they see the world. But in the outer suburbs, he says, 'We'll just give an open ticket,' to favour the Liberals. He sent a member of my staff a very indignant email just recently, complaining about what my colleague Senator Dastyari had said about the Greens. Senator Dastyari had called them a cancer on progressive politics. Well, the cap fits. What we see generally is that progressive parties do not do dirty deals with the Liberals to cut pensions and reduce tax transparency for large corporations, and they certainly do not do dirty deals to help the coalition win control of this chamber.

The government and the Greens have cobbled together a deal to protect their specific interests. The government is seeking a blocking majority, a minimum of 38, which is best secured through a double dissolution, because it is easier to secure seven seats out of 12 in a double dissolution, where the quota is cut in half, than it is to secure just three seats out of six in a half-Senate election. The deal, which would abolish the group and individual voting tickets and introduce optional preferential voting, would see a situation which would encourage the strongest possible result for the conservative parties and bolster the Greens' position, as they see themselves as the great fixers of political power.

It is said that there is a savings provision involved in these propositions. We all know what the Electoral Commission has said—that a vote of '1' above the line will be formal. The effect of this arrangement may well be to have a first-past-the-post system for this chamber in this country. It comes down to a very simple proposition—that people can put '1' above the line and do not have to allocate any preferences. In my view, that will become increasingly the case.

The Howard government, when they secured a majority in this chamber back in 2004, gave us Work Choices. They had not mentioned it in the election campaign. That majority allowed them to pursue their long-held obsession with destroying the trade union movement, destroying people's capacity to organise, getting rid of penalty rates and getting rid of people's rights at work. What troubles me greatly about these arrangements is that that is exactly what we will see again. We know there is a deep train of thought that runs through politics in this country, whether it be on our side or on the other side of the chamber. We saw it with health care. Labor struggled to secure Medibank and Medicare. That struggle went right through the seventies and eighties, until Medicare was so firmly entrenched in the country it made it impossible to get rid of. But the conservatives today, 40 years after that great initiative, still constantly work away at trying to undermine it. On trade union issues, the struggle around rights at work is a ribbon that has run right through the middle of politics since Federation, through the history of the Commonwealth. If the coalition secure a majority in this chamber and in the other chamber, it will lead to opportunities for the very hard right of Australian politics to secure their dreams. That is what really concerns me about the arrangements the Greens have entered into.

They say the benefit of that is that the Greens will be entrenched as the balance-of-power party. That is not necessarily going to happen either, because, if Senator Xenophon is able to secure the sorts of votes I expect he will, he may well find that he is in the position of influence, and he may well take an entirely different view to the Greens on some questions. These arrangements will in fact enhance conservative values in Australian politics.

If people were genuinely concerned about what is happening with regard to the election of senators with very few votes—and I think there is a legitimate issue for people to be concerned about—it would have been better to have a proper look at what other countries do and to ensure that the proportional representation system is not distorted. I have long supported the view that we need a threshold in the election process. Right around the world, that is what occurs. The threshold is as high as 10 per cent in some countries, like Turkey, but in many places it is two or three per cent. In Denmark the threshold is two per cent. Four or five per cent is typical in most European countries that use proportional representation systems. Some would say, 'It doesn't fit with our constitutional principles.' That has never been tested, and it has never been properly discussed how those matters could be overcome. Section 7 of the Constitution talks about the principle of being directly elected. We will see what happens if this bill, which will be passed, is put into law, because Senator Day has said he is prepared to take that matter to the High Court.

I think there is a possibility for action to introduce systems other than the one that is being proposed here. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which the government says was so important to its deliberation on this matter, presented a whole different set of arrangements. The joint committee proposals are not the same as those that are being considered here this evening. The bill before the Senate does not match the recommendations of JSCEM. The government has said that it implements the substance of them. On other occasions, it has said that it implements 85 per cent of them. The truth is: this bill is very different from the proposals that were discussed by the joint committee.

We have the prospect here of contests being pursued in this chamber which will have, in many senses, unknown circumstances. I am very concerned about the direction that one can expect will arise from these measures. I think many Green voters would equally be very concerned about the direction that these measures are taking us in.

I know for instance in the article I referred to there are matters here that would appear to be simple, but Ted Baillieu found in Victoria, after discussions following the election of Adam Bandt in the seat of Melbourne, that the Liberals were not served by providing a preference deal with the Greens. There was a proposition that arose essentially out of the result of a rank and file revolt within the Liberal Party itself about such preference arrangements between the Greens and the Liberals. I think the proposition we have here is of course in part a down payment on that preference arrangement. I raised the question with the director of the Liberal Party, Mr Nutt, who has confirmed the discussions were had just this weekend. Mr Kroger has met with the Greens to further these talks in regard to the arrangements that have been mentioned. I think the point was made well in the Herald Sun last Tuesday:

Meanwhile, what are the Greens idealists to make of this new development, with a leader who contemplates partnering up with the Liberals? Just because leaders and party officials make deals or private agreements, it doesn’t mean their supporters will honour them. Supporters tend to attach themselves to parties because of their beliefs, not because of 'arrangements'.

It concerns me greatly that we have a measure before us here tonight, which will invariably be carried in one form or another, and a new-found zeal from the coalition and the Greens in the name of enhancing transparency to reinforce the privilege of those already privileged in our society and undermine the best hope that the most under-privileged people have in this country—that is, a Labor government in the future with progressive policies passed through progressive laws passed through this parliament. That is what is at stake here.