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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2227

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (20:29): I too rise to make a contribution in this lively debate. I want to just put on the record some of the feedback that my office has been getting about the electoral reform bill. In particular, it is addressed to one Senator Robert Simms. It says:

Dear Robert,

Stop the feigned bleeding heart crap, you're not the only gay victim, the Greens have done a greater disservice to democracy and egalitarianism by supporting a revised senate voting system that will virtually ensure that almost 25% of Australians—

Senator SIMMS: On a point of order—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Edwards ): Senator Gallacher, if you could just resume your seat.

Senator SIMMS: I am sorry, Mr Acting Deputy President—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Do not apologise. What is your point of order?

Senator SIMMS: I am not sure how the language that was just used was parliamentary but I do not consider it to be parliamentary. I think the statement should be withdrawn.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Gallacher, it would appear that it was a personal reflection on Senator Simms, so if you would not mind withdrawing it.

Senator Cameron: It is not on this issue.

Senator McKenzie: This is: I would like to support Senator Simms's point of order that that was a personal reflection on the senator.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Gallacher, I just would ask you to withdraw. Let me get into this seat and take control.

Senator GALLACHER: If it may please the Senate and you, I will withdraw—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Gallacher.

Senator GALLACHER: the imputation on Senator Simms's character or whatever you require.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.

Senator Cameron: I draw your attention to the state of the chamber.

(Quorum formed)

Senator GALLACHER: Going on with my line of communication, it says:

… the Greens have done a greater disservice to democracy and egalitarianism by supporting a revised senate voting system that will virtually ensure that almost 25% of Australians won't be properly represented in the Senate of the Australian parliament by non-leading party parliamentarians.

The Liberals, Nationals, Labor, and Greens at the 2013 federal election received 76.5% of primary senate votes and preferences giving them 89.5% of senate seats or 68 seats, whereas minor and micro party and non-partisan senate candidates received 23.5% of primary senate votes and 10.5% of senate seats or 8 seats.

It remains to be seen just how the Greens interpretation of democracy will play out, but if 23.5% of primary senate votes won by micro and minor party and non-partisan candidates cannot achieve between 8 and 18 senate seats in future senate elections then the fault in such a non-egalitarian senate voting system rests predominantly with the self-interested Greens who claimed the higher ground in supporting the Coalition Government in the legislation for the revised senate voting system.

Robert, contrary to that purported, you and the rest of the Australian Greens in the Australian parliament are an unmitigated disgrace to true democracy and egalitarianism.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Gallacher, I would ask that you address your comments to the chair and address participants in the chamber by their correct title. Thank you.

Senator GALLACHER: Senator Simms—

contrary to that purported, you and the rest of the Australian Greens in the Australian parliament are an unmitigated disgrace to true democracy and egalitarianism.

Senator Simms: Give me their name; I'll write them a letter.

Senator GALLACHER: And:

Kindest regards,

Harry Power

I am sure you will write them a letter, Senator Simms. That is why they responded to you. This is the response. It is your unmitigated disaster—a disgrace to true democracy and egalitarianism. That is not from our side of the table but from their side of the table. That is one of their supporters. That is one of their supporters' contributions to this debate. I just mention that in passing.

This is a bill that has managed to pass the House of Representatives without a joint committee report even being completed. It is a done deal. It is a process. Most of us in political life or even in business life, union life or just life in general know what a deal is. It is a meeting of people's inclinations—the way they want to go forward.

It appears very clear that the Leader of the Australian Greens, the new leader, is quite a departure from the Christine Milne model or the Bob Brown model. The Senator Di Natale model is quite different. It is a pragmatic power grab. There is no doubt about that. Senator Di Natale seeks more influence, and good luck to him. He seeks more influence with whichever government is elected in Australia. He seeks for his party to be the party of scrutiny, if you like, or achieving their ends, and that is what politics is all about. But he is going to face the scrutiny of his own membership. He is going to face the scrutiny of all of those people who align themselves with the Greens party.

I suppose, if we look back in history, the Democrats faced the same scrutiny. The Democrats faced the same scrutiny when they made some arrangements with governments which did not turn out to be as fortuitous as they may well have thought. They may have been pragmatic decisions at the time. They may well have been decisions to have influence now, but history will show that the Democrats are no longer represented in this chamber.

That is something that the Australian Greens should properly reflect upon, because you have to be true to your ideology. You have to be true to the people who send you here. This is really never about us. It is never about our time in the chamber. It is our representational efforts for the people who sent us. If you ever forget that and you start thinking it is about your position at the table, your power at the table, where you are in the pecking order, who has to look up or down to you, then you are getting a bit far away from where you need to be.

We believe it has been a rushed reform. The AEC states that it needs three months to get these changes in place. If this does go ahead and there is a double-D, it might have to manually count all the ballots. Who knows?

Senator McKenzie: Heavens! Heavens to Betsy!

Senator GALLACHER: I will take that interjection. It might mean that the country goes for a number of weeks or months without a decision being made. It is rushed. The AEC has indicated that there is a problem.

The bill may potentially exhaust 3,000 votes. Twenty-five per cent who do not vote for the major parties may not see their vote carried out in the way it has been up until now. You can debate whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, but basically I am always very reluctant to change rules. I have found through my working life that people who wrote rules sometimes 100 years ago were very, very good at it, and when we ever changed a rule there were always unintended consequences or unthought-of consequences. So I am a person who thinks, 'If you've got a system, make it work.' I do not really think that the system is broken. I do not think it is broken.

What clearly is broken for major political parties is that we do not attract the majority of the vote anymore. There are up to three million people voting the other way in the Senate. You could argue that that is a good thing. This is supposed to be the house of review. This is supposed to be where legislation is tested, where people actually evaluate what is coming up from the House of Representatives and have a good look at it through the Senate committee system. There is ample evidence of that being a good and proper system for Australia.

I think the average elector actually gets it. They obviously get it because they can vote one way in the lower house and another way in the upper house. They can distinguish their votes. So maybe this Senate that people are castigating is what the Australian people actually want. I accept that there might be a majority of Liberal voters and/or Labor voters who think they have a problem with that, but, when you look at the 100 per cent of people who vote, this is what we have got.

We will have that changed by a grab for power from 'the black Wiggle' and his crew. That is basically what it appears to be: a very pragmatic, driven, outcome focused, Greens leader whose major challenge will be to take his party with him. That is where I would say that he may have the most difficulty. He will not have the difficulty in this chamber. Senator Simms I think is here without even getting a vote. I do not think he has actually got a vote from an elector yet. He may well in a double-D. He may well, in a double-D, have a very short career. I do not wish that on him. I do not wish that on anybody, however they get here. He replaced a very good retiring senator in Penny Wright, a great contributor here. He replaced Senator Wright, so he is fully entitled to be here. But it will be interesting to see how this deal that has been done plays out in South Australia. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out in South Australia.

I will continue on the theme of the change in the Greens. I have not been here long. I knew Bob Brown. I respected his contribution to the chamber. I did not often agree with him, but I thought he was a very, very effective parliamentary performer. I happen to have a story to recount about the leadership of the Greens in this whole matter. A member of parliament attended a conference in Geneva, and he attended the conference with Senator Brown. Within hours of Senator Brown landing in Geneva, he had a crowd of 500 people, an enormous number of media, in attendance, and that person said, 'I knew I was in the presence of a world-class environmental leader.' That was his reputation. When he came into this chamber, he carried that gravitas. We did not always agree. We almost never agreed on a lot of issues but you never doubted the absolute integrity of his beliefs and his commitment to the Greens ideology.

When he left, Senator Milne carried that on. She carried that on, I think, in an exemplary manner. I remember a contribution she made here one morning—and she could be quite aggressive and quite combative in her stance—when she tore strips off Senator Abetz's threat to keep us here over the weekend. She was a very able and committed performer and someone who engendered a lot of respect in this chamber.

With what has happened now, I do not see that respect continuing forward with Senator Di Natale's position. He has now left that clean-driven green ideology and he is now playing with everybody—on his personal position, his party's position and the power they can bring to bear. That is fine, but it is a change. They have always been as pure as the driven snow. They always wanted to be environmentally clean and correct and right. They never actually wanted to get in and exercise real power. That is a change.

The Greens have changed. This week is the week the Greens have changed to actually play the game and not be pure and ideologically driven. They are going to be here to play. And, once you make a deal—as you well know from your business career, Mr Acting Deputy President Edwards, and as I know from my union career—it is addictive. Once you make a good deal, it is doubly addictive.

So they made a deal today, or they will make a deal at the end of this week, and it will be addictive. That surge of power they get, that little bit more media they get, that little bit more esteem they get—and maybe another GQ, maybe another poloneck bloody photoshoot, whatever it takes to get—

Senator Cameron: Not a poloneck; a turtleneck.

Senator GALLACHER: A turtleneck was it? Sorry. I take that interjection. They have moved very clearly to being a deal-making party. I would say there is another party that did that, and that was the Australian Democrats. They made some arrangements that did not bode well for them. It actually destroyed them. I do not think that will actually happen to the Greens, but this is a really big shift.

Since Senator Di Natale has taken over as the Leader of the Australian Greens, they have voted with government in the Senate to cut age pensions by $2.4 billion. I do not know whether that would have got through Senator Milne or Senator Bob Brown. I am not sure that they would have actually stumped up and whacked $2.4 billion off age pensions.

They voted to pass Mr Abbott's and Mr Hockey's budget measures. No-one liked the 2014 budget; not even the Liberals liked it. The Nationals certainly did not. But hang on; we have it here. They voted to pass Mr Abbott's and Mr Hockey's budget measures, cutting the age pension for 330,000 elderly Australians. They want to get into the real game here. They want to actually get into the economic game. They want to be players in the tax market. But then you hear Senator Whish-Wilson saying: 'We don't need a defence force. We shouldn't be spending $30 billion on defence.' My goodness! There is a bit of work that has been going on over there and it is not all good. So they voted to cut the pensions of 330,000 elderly Australians. I am not sure that Senator Milne or Senator Bob Brown would have led them in that way. That was June 2015.

They have also let big companies keep secret how much tax they pay. They are okay to whack the 200 wealthiest Australians, but the big companies are allowed to keep their taxation secret. These are decisions which have all led them to the electoral reform bill. Once you make a deal, once you get a little bit more skin in the game, once you get a little bit more access—a little bit more, 'Come into the Prime Minister's office and we can talk'—it is alluring and it is addictive. And they are playing in that field and they are doing it.

They have joined forces with the government to deter job-creating investment. They have voted with the Liberals and the Nationals to erect new barriers against investment by reducing Foreign Investment Review Board screening thresholds for proposed investments in agriculture and agribusiness. Mr Acting Deputy President Edwards, you and I know that if you are American you can do a billion dollars of business in Australia—no problem; FIRB does not even look at it. Sorry: $1 billion they would, but $999 million would go straight through.

Why is the capital that is coming from our largest trading partner subject to—with the voting of the Greens—more scrutiny? Why is that? Money is money. I can remember when the Japanese economy was at the tip of its peak, or the peak of its worth, so to speak, and they bought whole lots of stuff in Queensland. There are plenty of cheap golf courses in Queensland because the Japs—sorry—the Japanese came in and bought up wholesale. They bought it up. They invested everywhere. And then their economy went down the gurgler a bit and now they are not so prevalent. So capital flows in and out of Australia—

Senator Simms: Point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. I must again refer the senator to his language. This is twice now that we have heard, I think, quite unparliamentary language. And I think he should be called to order.

Senator Cameron: On that point of order, I think it is quite clear that the senator immediately retracted. He said sorry right away. Let's not make something out of nothing here.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Edwards ): Senator Cameron, resume your seat. I concur. I did hear Senator Gallacher correct himself.

Senator GALLACHER: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. And I do withdraw any imputation on any nationality. It was a slip so to speak. We do know that there has been capital flowing in and out of Australia for the whole 200 years of its history. It is necessary. It is always finds its place. It is not always successful; that is the point I was trying to make. I think it is really interesting that the Greens political party, who have now become addicted to this allure of making deals with the government, is dabbling in that area as well. The Foreign Investment Review Board screening thresholds for investments in agriculture and agribusiness were done in their interests for purely electoral purposes; they were not done in the best interests of Australia

Anyway, back to the matter at hand: the simple facts are that Senator Simms will be arguing for these reforms as a good member of his party—ably led by Senator Di Natale—and I do not think he has actually ever received a vote. Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Simms, if there is a double dissolution, will probably be fighting it out for a spot. We go down through the history of these sorts of arrangements, and I think '83 and '87 were the last two double dissolutions, so we do not have a lot of real groundwork to go on. We do not really know what is going to happen in South Australia, but there could be well be a situation where this will not actually play out for the Greens political party, and it may be that some of the new-found pragmatism and deal making in the Greens political party will actually impact on their membership in this chamber, and that may be an unintended consequence of the arrangements they are making.

It is fair to say that this arrangement has been debated for a couple of sessions now and with a few more to go. I actually think that the voters of Australia can be trusted to get matters correct. I do not subscribe to the view that this needs dramatic overhaul. I think we can trust the electors of Australia to pick up a House of Reps ballot paper and fill it out and pick up a Senate ballot paper and fill it out. The situation that has prevailed since '83, I think, should continue and I think it is disingenuous of the Greens to take an opportunity which they believe may favour them, as the party who may hold the most crossbench seats, so to speak, in this place outside the Nats—do not forget that the Nats will have a few. Sorry, Senator Simms: that is the Nationals, in case you want to take exception to that, but we have always used some abbreviations here. I simply think that the arrangements in place at the moment have suited Australia since '83. They should continue. I do not think that the deal that has been done with the government and the Greens will advance either party, but if it does advance a party it is more likely to be the conservative side of politics than the Greens.

(Quorum formed)