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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1544


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (09:59): As I was quoting experts yesterday in terms of electoral reform, I want to mention Ross Fitzgerald, professor of history. Professor Fitzgerald said:

These new laws with regard to voting for the Senate will reshape the Australian political landscape for decades to come. By refusing to debate them with the people of Australia—

Mr—

Turnbull is admitting to the fact that this new legislation is simply designed to get rid of opponents at the next election. He cannot argue with the fact that almost 30 per cent of Australians voted for a minor party at the last Senate election.

Mr Michael Maley, a former senior official of the Australian Electoral Commission, has said:

… the scheme proposed in the bill is an incoherent one, with no clear underlying principles apparent … The Bill's proposal, for optional preferential voting above the line but full preferential voting below the line (again with some allowance for mistakes), makes no sense, and has not been supported by any stated justification.

Professor George Williams, a professor of constitutional law, has said:

… introducing optional preferential above the line voting, while retaining full preferential voting for below the line, creates an obvious and unfortunate disparity. The result will be a system in which below the line voting is significantly more onerous, thereby privileging the party-selected voting tickets applied in the case of an above the line vote.

Given how quickly the government and that lot over there, the Greens, are trying to rush through this parliament, it makes me think about how much consideration either side has given to potential outcomes of this reform. On 17 February, Heath Aston in The Sydney Morning Herald provided some coverage on this issue and on how each of the main players would be affected by these reforms following 'a review of voting data by Graham Askey and Peter Breen, veteran players in minor party preference negotiations':

Mr Askey … said the Greens—

have a listen to this, you lot:

had not properly considered the ramifications of a double dissolution once voting reforms are passed.

"They haven't done their due diligence. They are walking into this with their eyes wide shut," he said.

When quizzed on this, Senator Rhiannon, who is now leaving the chamber, said, and I quote—no, she's back. Good one. Have a listen to this—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I am going to quote Senator Rhiannon:

Our—

the Greens'—

work for Senate voting reform is not about trying to secure any electoral advantage. We don't expect it to make much difference to our results.

Really? However, as Heath Aston reports—and this is very interesting:

Mr Askey and Mr Breen's review forecasts the Greens would lose one of their two senators in both Western Australia and South Australia in a double dissolution.

My goodness me! How I wish and pray for a double dissolution!

That would mean the loss of either—

Senator—

Scott Ludlam or

Senator—

Rachel Siewert from WA and either—

Senator—

Sarah Hanson-Young or

Senator—

Robert Simms in SA, depending on who gets first spot on the Greens ticket.

I am excited! I am so excited! The Greens—how intelligent! I have to tell you, Mr Acting Deputy President: this is like that scene from Life of Brian. What was the suicide squad? Who were they—you know, the ones who were here to save Brian? Fantastic effort!

As I have already said, with this deal the government will gain control of the Senate. This will be extremely bad for working families, students and pensioners across the country. An article by Mark Kenny—may I say, the good Kenny—in The Sydney Morning Herald on 25 February said that the reality of this deal was painted very clearly in a letter from the Secretary of the ACTU, Mr Dave Oliver, to Senator Di Natale:

"A double dissolution may see some or all of the crossbench senators defeated two years into their six-year terms and potentially replaced by Coalition senators," Mr Oliver states in the February 24 letter obtained by Fairfax Media. "The last time the Coalition had control of both houses of Parliament—

and I do remember—

Australia went backwards in a whole range of areas of common interest, for example, WorkChoices to the trade union movement, your party and progressive voters more broadly."

Also:

"The Australian Greens has a reputation for standing up for working Australians. We would hate to see that reputation being damaged by such a deal," wrote Mr Oliver …

Sorry, Mr Oliver. You have been badly let down, as have millions of Australians.

It is also interesting to note, and I hope the Greens are paying attention—no, sorry, they have all scampered out of here like frightened cats; there is one left, but he may as well hear it too, and I hope that they are all listening in their offices because of the intelligence of the Greens—that an online Essential Media survey of 2,700 respondents taken earlier this week found that Greens voters opposed their party's cooperation with the federal government on Senate changes at the rate of two to one, 54 per cent to 27.2 per cent. It is getting better all the time!

Labor will move amendments to Mr Turnbull's voting reform bill to enhance transparency around political donations. This is, I am proud to say, longstanding Labor policy. It is real reform, not the product of a grubby backroom deal. Labor will move to reduce the donations disclosure threshold from $13,000, the current rate, CPI indexed, to $1,000—you can hear their knees knocking over there; you can hear the trembling—and remove CPI indexation, will ban foreign political donations, will also ban anonymous donations above $50 to registered political parties and will limit donation splitting that evades disclosure requirements.

Mr Turnbull and the Greens should support these reforms. At the end of the day, the Greens have done a very dirty, grubby deal with the Liberals and the Nationals.

Senator Heffernan: Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. The language is offensive: 'dirty', 'grubby'. You know I come from the bush, and we use very polite language—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Gallacher ): Sorry, Senator Heffernan, there is no point of order.

Senator STERLE: I will just get over the initial shock of Senator Heffernan standing up about inappropriate language. I was in the Senate estimates when the F word slipped out, and, crikey, he wants to get at me for calling a dirty, grubby deal a dirty, grubby deal. Crikey, what is this Senate coming to?

As I said, Mr Turnbull and the Greens should support these reforms. At the end of the day, the Greens have done a very dirty, grubby deal with the government, with the Libs and the Nats, to change the Senate preference system, without allowing time for proper and fair scrutiny of the reform. We stand here opposing the bill.