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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1552


Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (10:27): I rise to speak on the amendment proposed to the motion by Senator Collins. It is interesting that the previous speaker, Senator Cormann, took the opportunity to talk about the Labor senators' and members' dissenting report and about the 'sham committee process' that had been 'rammed through'.

Senator Cormann: Not a single member signed it.

Senator DASTYARI: There are some interjections there; Senator Cormann feels the need to be jumping in. I am happy, as we go through, Senator Cormann, to tell a few stories that people have told me about how you obtained your preselection. But perhaps we will save that for another time.

Senator Conroy: No, do tell!

Senator Cormann: Tell us. I would like to find out.

Senator DASTYARI: I think you know. What we just heard and what we found out this morning is that the government itself is now already looking at even further amendments with this legislation, and it goes to show that this is what happens when you rush a process and do not allow a process to be properly run. The chair's draft report that is being tabled this morning by the committee, as I understand it, was issued and was shared with committee members at 9 pm yesterday evening, with a view to it being formally adopted by the committee again—the time is maybe an hour or two off here, but this is the information I was given—by 8 am this morning. So, at 9 pm last night, a report—at that point, a draft report, which was the chair's report, requesting to know if people wanted to sign on or not—was being circulated, with a view to a final report being adopted this morning. That is not a good process. That is not a proper process. That does not allow the opportunity to have some of the evidence that was being expressed yesterday in the summation.

All the major parties—although I cannot speak for the Greens here—have their party room meetings on a Tuesday morning. Certainly the conservative parties and the Labor Party do. I am not aware of when the Greens—

Senator Whish-Wilson: We have one every morning. We are very diligent.

Senator DASTYARI: Oh, every morning! They love to meet! I skipped most of our party room meeting yesterday morning so that I could have the opportunity to hear some of the evidence. I note that not all members of the parliament had the luxury or the opportunity to do that. It took most of yesterday, while parliament was sitting, for people to try to get on top of what evidence was given. This committee process would be better if there was more time and more opportunity to make amendments and to digest the legislation.

Again, what was so strange was the decision to not allow the Department of Finance to present evidence to the committee. What we are being told and what we believe is the case—and this is from whistleblowers from within the department; we have not had a chance to get to the bottom of it and we will not have the chance to get to the bottom of it until the estimates process—is that the draft legislation here was drafted solely by the Department of Finance, the department that Senator Cormann is the minister for, and handed over to PM&C. The complaint from the people in PM&C is that this is why it was so poorly drafted and required, hours after it had been introduced, eight amendments just to make it workable. Prime Minister and Cabinet do not feel that they had the opportunity to make this workable legislation. Eight amendments were quickly rushed through to make the bill somewhat more workable. I understand from what Senator Cormann told us moments ago—and again, obviously, this is in the chair's report—that there will be a further amendment about below-the-line voting. There are things we can do to further improve these types of legislation, and that is why we need to have a vigilant and longer process to analyse this.

Let's be clear: when it comes to legislation there are always going to be senators with different views. I suspect that someone like me is not, at the end of the day, necessarily going to see eye to eye or 100 per cent with other senators in this chamber on this legislation. I accept that. But I believe that, while we are never going to agree completely, we can always use the processes that we have to make sure that we have better and improved bills. We can make legislation better, even if it is not legislation we would necessarily ourselves think is the best piece of law.

There is a dissenting report which I want to touch on. It was produced by the Labor senators. Again, I want to commend the work that was done. I note that this was done in an incredibly short period of time. They only had from 9 pm yesterday evening when they were aware of what the chair wanted to do until early this morning to present an alternative position. I note that what Labor has said is that there is an acceptance that there is reform that can and should happen. I do not think there is any dispute on that. I felt that Ross Gittins put this really well. He said it is a non sequitur to say that there needs to be reform and that this is the only reform that can happen. You can have the argument that there needs to be reform and actually present other reforms or what I believe are better reforms. I think the Labor JSCEM inquiry dissenting report accurately outlines some concerns and some of the proposals about what we can do to improve the voting system.

The last time we had reform in this area was in 1984. That was 31 years ago. I think we all accept the fact that societies change, voting systems change and how people participate changes. After 31 years, you should look at how you can improve pieces of legislation and make laws better. Again, I think there is a big debate that needs to be had about how people participate and vote. I think there is an exciting space in different participatory models about online voting and people using tablets and other types of technology. This is the exciting part of new technology and participation that we should be looking at. Frankly, there are those who would argue for the paper system from 100 years ago. Things change, societies change and how people participate changes, so the voting system should change.

I accept all of that. I think that is a very exciting space to be in and I think it is something we should be looking at. In fact, I have personally gone even further and said that we should have a bigger debate about how old people should be when they vote as well. It is a very contentious position that many people do not support, but I think it is worth having a debate about whether the voting age should be lower and whether that would encourage more participation or whether those people are not ready to be involved. All of those questions are part of a healthy debate.

That is not what we are having here, though. What we are having here is a shortened process with laws that are effectively being rammed through this place in a very, very quick manner. I am really worried that, if rumours around this chamber are correct, very soon we are going to start seeing gags. We are going to start seeing the opportunity to have some of this debate removed. I believe that there is a lot that should be explored, especially in relation to just how much information was presented in a four-hour inquiry. The government has already turned around and admitted there needs to be amendments and changes. If there was actually a proper process to look at these laws I believe we would find new areas where this draft legislation could be improved.

The amendment that is being proposed by Senator Collins, as I understand it, goes to when the message from the House should be received. It looks at presenting a date in May for that to happen. The purpose of that, rather than us debating this bill when we have not had the opportunity to have a proper deep analysis and are effectively rushing contributions because of time constraints, is to allow everyone to go away, go back to their communities, hear from their electorates and come back and have a fulsome, proper debate about this.

Senator Cormann says the government are not looking at an early election and this is not all part of some double-D strategy of going to an election on the CEFC bill, the registered organisations bill and, perhaps, the ABCC bill. I have seen very differing reports on whether or not the ABCC bill is already a trigger at this point. That seems to be a grey area. Frankly, I certainly suspect the government may introduce it again in the next little while. They have certainly foreshadowed that they will. Based on previous voting patterns, you would assume that that would be a trigger as well. Whether it currently is or not seems to be a point of legal contention, but I doubt that will matter by 2 July.

But you have these three triggers at this point in time. If the government is not looking at a double-dissolution election and if the government is not looking to use these laws for a double-dissolution election then I do not see why this is being rushed through before the budget. If they were genuine, I do not see the rush. I do not see why there is a rush to have this ready to be used in August if it were not also being prepared to be used for a July election. The talk of this early election is not coming from the Labor side of politics. It seems to be constantly backgrounded by government ministers and government MPs. They are proposing the date of 2 July, and I think I have also heard 9 July floated around the place. One or two people have even said 16 July. But there does seem to be a view held by the government that they are preparing themselves for a 2 July double-dissolution election, and they want to have these laws in place to be used for that double-D. That is what is happening. A double-dissolution election, at this point in time, would certainly be based on two triggers—that is, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation bill and the registered organisations bill—with the ABCC bill probably being another.

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Senator DASTYARI: I will take that interjection. Senator Whish-Wilson said, 'That's just not true.' These are matters of fact. It is a matter of fact that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation bill is a potential trigger for a double-dissolution election. That is a matter of fact. It is a matter of fact that the registered organisations bill is already a potential trigger for a double-dissolution election. The only grey area, from a legal perspective—there is, as I understand, differing advice on this—is whether the ABCC bill is already a trigger at this point or needs to be formally rejected one more time by the Senate.

Senator Whish-Wilson: It has been a trigger for 18 months. Why haven't they gone?

Senator DASTYARI: I will take that interjection, Senator Whish-Wilson, and thank you for participating in this debate.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Are you running out of things to say?

Senator DASTYARI: I will take your interjection too, in a moment, Senator Macdonald. Senator Whish-Wilson said: 'It's been a trigger for 18 months. Why haven't they acted?' I will tell you why they have not acted. It is because, post the implementation of these laws, the reason to act is increased. What happens post these laws is that the government will potentially be able to go to a double-dissolution election. That will be a decision for the government; I accept that. But the potential decision by the government is to go to a double-dissolution election using the new voting structures so that they have a Senate in which there are more conservatives and fewer crossbenchers. We even heard from Antony Green himself yesterday—I have only had a small opportunity to get on top of all the evidence that was presented yesterday—

Senator Ian Macdonald: I am not sure that you are not verballing him.

Senator DASTYARI: No. I have a lot of respect for Antony Green. It is my understanding that this is the evidence that he gave. If I have verballed Mr Green, I will certainly correct that. The respected electoral analyst Mr Antony Green gave evidence that under this system at the 2013 election:

… the Labor Party would have won a second seat in South Australia and Western Australia, the Liberals would have won an extra seat in Victoria and Tasmania …

He also said that Senator Xenophon's party—or himself as an Independent or a grouped Independent, as I think it was structured at that election—would have won an extra seat in South Australia and that the Greens senator, Senator Hanson-Young, would have lost her seat. That was the analysis given by him. Mr Antony Green went further, in response to questioning from Senator Rhiannon, which was, in part, peppered by other questions from Senator Conroy. I think there was a bit of a back-and-forth exchange. He noted that it was more likely than not that the number of conservative senators under this proposal would reach 38.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Are you reading from the transcript?

Senator DASTYARI: Yes, I did. I listened to it, and I read the transcript. Senator Macdonald, I will send you a press statement that was put out afterwards as well.

Honourable senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Senator Dastyari, just ignore the interjections.

Senator DASTYARI: But they are such good interjections!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I know. You are right.

Senator DASTYARI: A slower, longer and better process would lead to better policy outcomes in this space. I believe there is an agreement here, and there is an agreement across the chamber, that, fundamentally, there is a space and a place for reform. There is no agreement that this is necessarily the right reform to do. I accept the fact that there are those in this chamber who have held these views for a long period of time. I accept the fact that Senator Rhiannon has advocated OPV models over a long period of time. Senator Rhiannon has made these arguments not just in this place but in a previous career in the New South Wales state parliament and has been very consistent on this issue over a long period of time. I would say that that is not the only way of doing this. There are better ways of improving the laws than what has been proposed here. There are ways of making sure we have a greater participatory model and a better model. Again, I am not opposed to the idea that, after 34 years, it is time to update the voting systems and voting laws, but when you have legislation that, in a week, has already had nine amendments made to it—

Senator Jacinta Collins: By the government.

Senator DASTYARI: by the government, on their own legislation—

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator DASTYARI: No, what you had was a situation where there was poorly written, rushed legislation from the Department of Finance—

Honourable senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Dastyari shall be heard in silence. Senator Dastyari, you have the call.

Senator DASTYARI: I am outraged!

Senator McKenzie: Stop laughing, Sam, during that outrage.

Senator DASTYARI: I am laughing at what is happening to electoral laws in this country under the laws being proposed—

Honourable senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I cannot hear Senator Dastyari. Senator Polley, it is bad enough with Senator McKenzie, Senator Collins, Senator Macdonald and Senator Cormann carrying on. Would you all just settle down so that I can hear Senator Dastyari's contribution.

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Acting Deputy President, I note that you are saying that you cannot hear my contribution—many people would be prepared to swap seats with you right now!

This is rushed legislation. Amendments have been proposed because the Department of Finance prepared this legislation in a rushed manner without properly taking it through the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. All of these matters have not had the chance to be properly explored and analysed. There is an opportunity here, if we adopt the suggestion that has been proposed in the amendment from Senator Collins, to have a longer process. Frankly, looking at the amount of evidence given in yesterday's short hearing, we should have more hearings. Let us have the Senate look at this properly.

Senator Jacinta Collins: Let's hear from the department.

Senator DASTYARI: Let's hear from the department. Let's have the department look at this. We are going to go through a budget estimates process in late May. That will be a great opportunity to ask questions of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Finance. No-one can explain the need to rush this legislation. If the numbers are there because the Greens and the government have already reached an agreement on this—no-one is purporting they have not—what is lost by having a longer process to make sure that at least the amendments are better? Every time we look at this bill, more amendments seem to pop up. What is wrong with saying, 'Let's have a later implementation date; let's bring the legislation through a bit later so that we can have a proper opportunity to make sure we have the right amendments'? The legislation was introduced by the government. Hours later they had to bring in eight amendments. If they had done their homework, if they had done the legislation properly, they would not need to bring in eight amendments. This is before any scrutiny. It is simply because the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had not seen the legislation.

I have just been given a note which says that the Australian Greens are going to comment on Senate voting reform at 10.50 this morning. I am not sure exactly what that is going to mean, but I think that is going to be a fairly interesting contribution. I hope it is not a gag. I hope it is not about stifling democracy. I hope it is not about stifling people from having an opportunity to have a say. This is the party that always says they do not gag. It appears now that they are going to start gagging. (Time expired)