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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1678


Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (18:39): I am very concerned about this report. I am in my 24th year in this chamber, so I have seen a few rough committees over my time—but none as rough as this one. If anyone wants to be reminded of the difference in standards between the Senate and the House of Representatives, one should get involved with a joint committee. In particular, they should be engaged with a committee such as this. The chair of the committee, the member for Banks, who is a relatively new member of the parliament, was given the task by this government of ramming through what are some of the most controversial measures this parliament has seen in regard to electoral laws in 30 years. That is what we are discussing here. It is a change to the way in which the Senate is elected and, as a consequence of the role we play in this parliament, a change to the way the Australian parliament is elected. It is the biggest change we have seen in 30 years.

You would have thought something as significant as that would require a bit of close examination. You know, we could actually acknowledge, as Labor Party senators and members of the joint committee have done, that there are legitimate concerns about laws governing the election of senators and the outcome of the 2013 half-Senate election. We could also acknowledge that no system is perfect—and the current system for electing senators is, of course, no exception. Having said that, you would also have thought there would be time for proper scrutiny of any proposed changes so we could look at the implications of these measures.

I note, for instance, that at the proceedings—and I attended as a participating member for most of the hearings—the Electoral Commission told us that they first found out about this particular piece of legislation when they got a copy of the bill on 11 February. This was not legislation that the Electoral Commission had actually drafted, oh no! It was legislation that was actually drafted by the finance department, who this committee refused to allow to appear. So there can be no discussion with the officers of the finance department about the intentions behind the bill, the consequences of the bill and the problems with the bill.

So we discovered that the government sent the bill to the Electoral Commission on 11 February. It was then given to members of the House, for them to cast their judgement, on 22 February. So, 11 days later, the government dropped the bill into the House and rammed it through the House that day; and then it established a committee to look at the consequences, with a reporting date of 2 March.

Of course, the legislation has already been passed in the House of Representatives, so the committee's report is effectively designed for attention in the Senate. You do not really need to consider these matters in detail, even though the legislation did require amendment—which is, of course, what happened in the House. And if we take this report at face value the government has acknowledged that it requires further amendment. This highlights that, when you rush this type of stuff through, you create unintended consequences which leave you open to profound mistakes.

These are the circumstances that we are faced with here. The government is seeking to rush through legislation. What for? What is the intent? The intent here is not to improve the level of transparency and accountability in our governments. The intent here is to provide the circumstances for a double dissolution election. Under these electoral laws when they are accepted—because of the arrangement the government has entered into with the Greens—the government has its best chance of securing 38 seats in a double dissolution election. In fact a double dissolution election is the only circumstance where they could probably get 39 seats, and do so by the middle of the year. That is their intention. In July, they want to be able to fundamentally transform politics in this country to allow the government to pursue its political agenda by securing a majority in the Senate. It has nothing to do with improving transparency. It has everything to do with providing the hard right of the Liberal Party with the necessary resources in this parliament to secure their agenda. No matter what they enter into now, those are the consequences of what the Greens are doing.

I will not say they are naive. I do not think they are naive at all. What happened at the committee hearing when we asked Mr Nutt, the director of the Liberal Party: 'Have there been discussions between the Greens and the Liberal Party about exchanging preferences in inner-city seats in Melbourne and Sydney?' The answer was yes. The question has to be: what is the price for that sleazy little arrangement? The price may well be that the Liberal Party is doing a deal with the Greens to give them a favourable position in Wills, in Batman and in central seats in Sydney.

So it is a question of whether the Greens are prepared to cave in on issues like $100,000 university degrees and the $12 billion cuts to the university system that this government are trying to impose. Those are the consequences of their policy position at the moment that, to this date, they have failed to secure the support of the Senate on. If this arrangement comes into play, I can see circumstances where the government would be able to impose $12 billion worth of cuts to universities over a 10-year period.

Senator Waters interjecting

Senator KIM CARR: You question my judgement on that? Let's go to the expert witness Professor Antony Green. He said that, under this proposed system, in the 2013 federal 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, Senator Xenophon would have won an additional seat in South Australia and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young would have lost her seat.

That is the other part of this little equation. The purge is not just on the crossbenches; it is a purge of those dissidents in the Greens party. The present leader of the Greens party is so desperate to prove how incredibly moderate and reasonable and accommodating he is to the Liberal Party, he has to get rid of one of his problems as a result. This is a very clever bit of political manoeuvring, isn't it? These are the people who claim to be the great party of protest at the same time being complicit with the quislings of the Liberal Party in securing an agenda. I am sure the people of the inner cities of this country will be pleased to hear that the party of protest calling itself the Greens has now capitulated to the hard right of the Liberal Party!

This—and I think the Labor Party has spelt this out very, very clearly—cannot go unchallenged. Last night I went home to my flat and at 9.40 at night an email came in with the chair's draft report. Under the shabby arrangements entered into, Labor senators were forced to produce a dissenting report by 8 am the next morning. This is what we are dealing with here. It is not just that this is such a shoddy process for the gathering of evidence and the hearing and treatment of witnesses. For instance, if you look at the Hansard record, Senator Collins asked, 'Why is the Department of Finance not here?' The chair of the committee said to Senator Collins: 'You are not here to make statements. That is not your job. Your job is to ask questions in the limited time that we have allocated for you in such a way as not to embarrass anybody by gathering information that might be pertinent to the way in which this bill will actually operate.'

Producing a chair's report at 9.40 at night and expecting a return by eight o'clock the next morning is way outside anything that I have seen in this chamber or in any joint committee that I have ever been associated with, and I am moving into my 24th year here. The entire process, as the minority report highlights, has been contemptuous of the parliament— (Time expired)