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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2252


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (22:16): There has been considerable debate about the process around the introduction of this piece of legislation. In question time today, on another matter, we heard the Cabinet Secretary say that he thought that on this side of the chamber we were more focused on process, whereas on his side of the chamber they were more focused on outcome. In terms of this debate, I think it is important that we look both at the process and what could be the potential outcome.

I was listening closely to Senator Bilyk's contribution, and many of the points she was making about the process of the joint standing committee were things I wanted to raise in this debate. I am a strong supporter of the role of committees in this area, as you well know, Mr Acting Deputy President. I think the role of committees is the strength of the Senate in terms of our ability to review legislation, to review issues and to feed back into the place so that the quality of the debate is as high as it can possibly be.

In this case, the work on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is one of the key areas of work in this place. After each formal federal election this joint standing committee is directed by the minister of the day—in this case, it was Senator Ronaldson in his capacity as minister in December 2013. He referred issues around the conduct of the 2013 election to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for consideration.

They went through their standard process of calling for submissions, calling for people to put forward their views about the issues that concerned them about the conduct of the 2013 election. In due course, this standing committee actually went through a very serious process of review. My understanding is that they had over 20 hearings, which is about standard practice in terms of this committee, looking at all the issues that people raised around that particular election.

Certainly one of the key issues that was raised was Senate voting processes. There was quite a degree of interest in this issue. There were 216 submissions to this original inquiry process conducted by the joint standing committee. They ranged widely from academics to political parties to organisations that have a long interest. One of the things that pleases me most about the way we engage in Australia with our electoral system is that there are so many individuals who take such a strong interest in the way our elections and voting system operate; because, of those 216 submissions, many were from private citizens who just wished to put on record their views about what happened in 2013, and often their concerns ranged much further into the past. You could see that they were regular correspondents to the committee.

The issue around Senate voting was not the only core issue that took up the time and the interest of the committee. There were a number of other key aspects of our electoral process that the committee considered. In fact, they came up with two interim reports during the process, one of which was dedicated exclusively to the issue of electronic voting, because that was another area of concern for the people who took up the challenge that was out there about the best way for our electoral processes to operate.

During that period, from 2013 through 2014 into 2015, the joint standing committee continued to meet, to interact and to put out reports. In fact, this committee put out a first interim report; a second interim report, which was focused exclusively on electronic voting; and then they brought down their third report, on 15 April 2015. That was the formal statement about how the joint standing committee had considered the issues around the 2013 election, taking all the evidence, placing all the information on Hansard, and coming up with a significant piece of work.

That was in April 2015. Until this day, now in 2016, there has been no formal government response to all that work that was done. All that work was done around our electoral voting system and there was no formal response from government. So my question is: why has the government, in this particular report, picked out a number of issues—by no means all the recommendations that were put forward by the joint standing committee—amended in some cases what had come forward, and brought forward an urgency of debate around the core aspect of Senate electoral processes which has to be considered immediately?

My point is that from April 2015—I have checked the Hansard—there has been no debate or discussion on any of these issues. There has been no urgency, no reason for discussion in this place, no notices of motion and no recommendations for debate in this place in the matters of public importance. There has been nothing around Senate electoral reform until two weeks ago, and that to me is one of the core issues of process that need to be considered in this debate as well as the proposed outcome and why the urgency has occurred, because in terms of the way this place operates it is absolutely critical that everyone understand the reason for the discussion and have the full information in front of them and that there be a transparency of debate—a transparency of argument.

When we first had the electoral law put before us as a matter of urgency, my question was: why? Why was it so urgent and why had there been no previous discussion with people in this place who absolutely share a very personal interest about the Senate voting process, because we are all subject to that process? That raises questions for me about the probity of what went on.

Then, when these issues were raised, when this bill was brought forward as a matter of urgency in our last sitting, a number of senators on this side of the chamber raised a very important issue: that we need to have further consideration of this bill, which had not had consideration up to this stage. Then what we had before us was another fault of process. As a token effort—almost as a way of dismissing debate in this chamber and also of dismissing our ongoing interest in effective discussion—we had handed to us a one-day hearing which was not even a full-day hearing. I know other senators have raised this point. But what was put forward to us as a Senate was another sham exercise. I am distressed to use that term, because I am a true believer in the probity of process in this place. It has a long history. Of course, at times there are issues, points of order, games played and people trying to have an advantage in the way that they can bring forward their arguments for a political purpose. But to misuse the way that committees should operate—as I believe was done—again raises an issue of process, because there was an advertisement put out. It was referred on 22 February, submissions had to be received by 29 February and the report had to be tabled and completed by 2 March.

On what we believe is the single greatest series of changes to Senate electoral process in over 30 years, that is not treating the parliament, nor is it treating the community, with the respect I think they deserve. Even though there had not been a lot of publicity—the first we heard of this change was in the media and of course that was the first the community had heard of it as well—there is a significant portion of the community who are transfixed with the issues of electoral voting processes. (Quorum formed)In terms of the integrity of process in this place, I believe that the sham attempt of the discussion that we had on the electoral bill at the half-day sitting that was held in the last sitting of parliament actually did not add in any way to the knowledge around the process. Rather it reinforced my concerns about due process.

If we are going to have effective outcomes, on which I think there is a shared belief, we need to be confident that the processes are effective and that there is an understanding that if we are going to be placing legislation which has not been seen before in this chamber—if we are going to have legislation brought into the chamber that is going to have such a significant impact on everybody in this chamber—it is important that we have the opportunity to have an effective hearing, not just such a tight turnaround, with the lack of opportunity for people to be involved in the debate and also to bring forward the kind of information that we needed to bring back into this place so that we could effectively debate the issues rather than perceived political advantages—because that is what has happened.

I had a look at some of the submissions that were received for that one-day hearing even though it happened so quickly. We had 107 submissions that came in that tight time frame, because people care about these issues.

Debate interrupted.