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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1557


Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (10:48): Senator Dastyari was out of doors yesterday holding up a square with 'Clean Energy Finance Corporation' inside it, saying, 'This is a trap.' What he should have had was a sign with a picture of his face saying, 'This is crap,' because this is exactly what we have got from the Labor Party.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Senator Whish-Wilson, and as much as that sort of language does not shock me, it may offend those listening. I would ask you to withdraw that last comment.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I withdraw that last comment if that is unparliamentary. You cannot trust the Labor Party on this issue. There has been a whole series of misinformation and misleading statements on what is actually a very, very important issue. What has concerned me the most—Senator Dastyari touched on it very briefly then—is the use of psephologists like Antony Green, who have spent their lives studying our democratic system and have been champions for reform, and the Labor Party is prepared to throw them under a bus and use statements they have made out of context to win a political argument in this chamber.

Yesterday in the chamber, during the middle of an extraordinary meltdown, Senator Penny Wong said:

I will remind the Greens of the evidence that was given to the joint standing committee by Antony Green, whom they have cited in debate on many issues in this chamber. He said that the most likely outcome is blocking majority for the coalition.

However, when asked on Twitter if Penny Wong was quoting him correctly, Antony Green replied, 'It's news to me.' Senator Wong has twisted Antony Green's words. If Senator Wong had been paying attention or had read Antony Green's earlier article on this specific issue, she would have understood that he meant that, if the coalition had a landslide victory, it is more likely the coalition would have a majority in the Senate—pretty basic stuff, really. Antony Green points out, 'This situation will occur under those circumstances whether there is Senate reform or not.' This is what Antony Green said at the full hearing yesterday:

The Senate is a proportional system, for if party wins a majority of the vote it has a chance of winning a majority of the seats. So for someone to say, 'Can you guarantee the coalition will never win a majority?' I say, 'No, I can't. If they win a majority of the vote they may win a majority of the seats.' Under more normal voting patterns the coalition does not get a majority of the vote. I counted it up and there are less than half a dozen instances in the last 25 years of them getting to 50 per cent in their own right in any individual state. In a double dissolution, where you are more likely to get a majority than a half-Senate election, that is the only time you would start seeing it as being a chance. It is much more likely that the coalition will win six seats at a double dissolution or three at a half-Senate election in each state. But I would point out that during the Howard government in 1996, 1998 and 2004 they won three of all of the vacancies in three states under the current system. All I am saying is that it would tend to produce the same thing as the current system.

He also wrote an entire article on this issue, had Senator Wong bothered to read it—'Would voting reform lead to the coalition winning a Senate majority at double dissolution?'

It is a claim that has set the dogs running this morning after analysis by the Renewable Energy Party claimed it would—

A minor party—

The claim is the Coalition would win 7 of the 12 vacancies in three states delivering the Turnbull government a Senate majority.

It is a claim that doesn't stand up to analysis.

…   …   …

Let's face facts. If the Coalition get the 50% of the vote to win seven Senate seats in NSW, Victoria and WA, then the Turnbull government would be returned to office with a massive House majority.

Under both the current and the proposed electoral system, a party would come close to winning seven Senate seats if its vote was above 50%.

That is the same thing he said yesterday. He continued:

The current Senate electoral system could just as easily produce the same result. However, you would have to work out the labyrinthine preference flows and factor in the random factors produce by voters needing to use magnifying glasses on the over-sized ballot papers in under-sized fonts.

I would also point out that there have been several other well-respected psephologists, including Dr Kevin Bonham from Tasmania, say similar things.

With all the chest beating and all the wild gesticulating, with all the flushed faces and the faux anger, with all the banging on the tables—if we captured little videos of it and ran some Benny Hill music in the background, we might actually produce an excellent, comical breakdown of what the Senate has been going through in the last three days, courtesy of the Labor Party. That is what it has looked like, but it is a serious issue. It is not a farcical or a comical issue. To be misquoting someone like Antony Green, I think is really poor form. Unfortunately, Senator Wong's quote was quoted verbatim in an article by The Guardian this morning. So it is out there in the public realm. I would ask Senator Wong to come into the Senate, check what Antony Green actually said and wrote and clarify her comments. And please correct the record, because this is a very serious debate. Antony Green has been a long-time contributor to democracy—

Senator Urquhart: On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. I would remind Senator Whish-Wilson that Mr Green's name is Antony Green, not Anthony Green.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you, Senator Urquhart. I think I did say 'Antony', but I will go back and check and I will be happy to correct the record if I have been wrong. Unlike Senator Dastyari's claim, the government has made it clear today—and I sensed this from estimates a couple of weeks ago when the Clean Energy Finance Corporation was being questioned—that it is not going to be a double dissolution trigger; they will not be putting up the legislation for that. We have been aware of that fact for weeks now that the government has been changing its view on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. They would not comment on the specific change in policy but, nevertheless, the issue has been clarified by the Prime Minister this morning. Senator Dastyari says that Labor has not been talking about an early election, but let me tell you that the fear-of-god campaign which the Labor Party has been putting into the crossbench has been all about an early election—even an election in April, Senator Polley.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator WHISH-WILSON: But what is the biggest danger in having a coalition dominated Senate? Let us be very clear about this: the Greens do not want to see a coalition dominated Senate. I do not think any Australian would like to see the government control both houses of parliament. What is the biggest danger? The biggest danger to this country in this debate is the terrible political performance by the Labor Party. A fear campaign run by the Labor Party and other stakeholders will actually turn out to be an own goal. If we do go to an early election in July or a half Senate election and if this sort of smear campaign against the Greens and against progressive voters all around the country—as shown in a poll yesterday—the majority of independent voters and the majority of Labor voters actually support Senate voting reform. This smear campaign against progressive people who want democracy and against parties like the Greens will deliver the result that the Labor Party and their stakeholders, who are agitating behind the scenes, do not want to see.

If we have an early election or a half Senate election, we all need to come together to deliver the outcomes that we want as political parties. We and the parties we represent were put here for our policies by the voters, and that is what will win the next election—a contest of ideas, and that is what politics is. This is not a contest of ideas; this is a grubby smear campaign based on misleading information, purely for the short-term political objectives of the Labor Party. I do not even say the Labor Party in a holistic way, because I know the Labor Party is deeply divided on this issue. Mr Gary Gray called the comments of people such as Senator Conroy and Senator Wong 'dumb' and 'sad' and 'misleading'. Like Senator Faulkner and other stalwarts of the Labor Party, they want to see voting reform. The Labor Party had plenty of opportunity while it was in government to deliver on these reforms.

I want to reflect on one other thing today which is really critical to me as a Green senator. One of the privileges we have in this job is to be able to put on the record during the adjournment debate the contributions people have made to our communities, our states or our political parties. Last night I spoke about a founding member of the United Tasmanian Group, Jeff Weston. The United Tasmanian Group went on to be the Tasmanian Green political party, the Australian Greens and the global green movement. Sadly, he passed away a few days ago. I reflected on the fact that he sat around a table with a number of other founders of our party 45 years ago—it is potentially even earlier than that, but he ran as a candidate in 1972. For the crossbenchers who have been in here—I enjoy working with the cross bench; they are good people; I have absolutely no problem with them at all and nor does my party—I would like to point out the legacy of people like Jeff Weston nearly 50 years ago deciding they needed to form a political party to achieve outcomes for the environment and for the future of Tasmania. It takes many years and a lot of people and a lot of energy to go into politics and be successful and establish a political party and get members voted in and then get your policies and philosophies voted on. It has taken our party nearly 50 years to get where we are today. With the big parties it took even longer.

We are here to represent a very deep, ingrained movement that started a long time ago, and it is very important that I as a senator reflect on these things in this debate. Absolutely everybody should have a chance to go into parliament and that is why we have been very careful with their policies on Senate voting reform to make sure that higher barriers for entry such as membership numbers are not put in place to prevent people from having their chance. It takes a lot of hard work to get into parliament and sometimes I feel that the debate we have heard here, especially in recent days, is essentially about whether we should allow ordinary Australians into the Senate through a lottery. If we want to be honest about this debate and whether it is good or bad for democracy, that is what we should be discussing. We should be discussing whether the sixth Senate seat in any half-Senate election should be put up as a lottery for any Australian to throw their hat into the ring. That would be a good debate to have, and that would be the honest debate because that is what we are actually discussing here—we are discussing the gaming of the system, and it is not democratic. It is not democratic because people do not know where their preferences go—it is too complex and too difficult to understand.

As I pointed out the other day, my party has consistently campaigned to get Senate voting reform in place. I am very proud that Senator Rhiannon achieved this reform in the upper house in New South Wales. I understand from speaking to her recently that she copped an incredible amount of flak, as the Greens did when they were bringing in this reform in New South Wales. But I do not think there are many people who are that unhappy with it. It is reform that Bob Brown introduced in 2004, and of course we were optimistic back in 2012 that the Labor Party when they were in government might do something about voting reform. But that reform has not occurred and we have an opportunity now to rectify that. We will not facilitate a double dissolution, and we will take the opportunity to support Senate voting reform—something we have campaigned on for a long time. It is good for democracy. Most Australians understand it is good for democracy. Most Australians would like to direct their preference in a simple, fair system. There is a press conference going on at the moment and there will be lots of things being discussed, but this issue has been through numerous committees over many years—the debate has been exhausted—and we are about to have, potentially, weeks of parliamentary debate coming up. So let us be clear about one thing: this is not rushed. This is the result of a committee process that has been going on for some time—it has been going on for many years—and we are getting very close to achieving something. We have asked the Labor Party to put aside populist politics for their own self-interest and do what is right by our Australian democracy and give the people something to believe in.