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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1680

Senator MUIR (Victoria) (18:49): I rise to briefly contribute some thoughts in relation to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report. In relation to the committee process, I will simply state, as I did yesterday, that this was the most biased and unbalanced committee inquiry I have ever participated in. My dissenting report highlights the key risks and issues in relation to the bill. Rather than follow the normal process, I was forced to begin this dissenting report late last week knowing that his process was going to be so rushed. I was well aware that the committee had a predetermined view and expected that most submissions would not be considered, especially considering there were up to 100 submissions which had been handed in by Monday evening. The committee hearing on the Tuesday morning went for four measly hours. There was they chair's report by Tuesday evening and on Wednesday it was tabled in the parliament. If this this is not a pre-written report, I will eat my hat.

This has all been done in the name of urgency due to an impending election. I would go so far as to say that the below-the-line recommendation was left out of the bill intentionally. It was such an obvious omission. I am sure that this omission was engineered to trigger public outrage from both critics and supporters of the bill. That way the committee report could then make a recommendation with follow-up amendments so that it would appear that a meaningful consultation process had taken place. I can see right through that. I suspect the Australian public can and I hope that supporters of the Australian Greens can as well. If the government can go to such lengths to manipulate the process, in collusion with the Greens, I have grave concerns about how the above-the-line savings provision where there is far less oversight might be able to be manipulated.

This morning I have been made aware of some recommendations from the joint committee in relation to below-the-line voting. These are the token amendments that I referred to just a moment ago. Whilst not identical, these recommendations are very similar to a recommendation I made in my dissenting report. However, the joint committee also recommended that a below-the-line savings provision be introduced to ensure that any ballot with at least six boxes numbered in sequential order be considered formal. This suggests that the government thinks that Australian voters are not able to number a series of boxes from one to 12. Frankly, I find this insulting.

The government is arguing that the current system is being gamed. However, the government, the Greens and Senator Nick Xenophon are colluding to introduce a provision to below-the-line voting that can be manipulated and exploited at the ballot box. I do note, in Senator Xenophon's defence, that he appears to share some of my concerns in relation to how these provisions can be exploited. I hope that I can work with Senator Xenophon on this matter. I also hope to work with others in relation to the recommendations and amendments that I will be moving during the debate.

Yesterday, the Australian Electoral Commission said they have presented an optimistic time estimate in relation to implementing the necessary changes in time for an election this year. I have grave concerns that, should something unexpected happen and they are forced to go live before systems are ready and tested, we may well end up with an IT disaster and an inquiry into what went wrong with a Senate election.

I believe that we can make some simple changes before the next election. My dissenting report outlines these and notes that they should be considered transitional arrangements for the next election. They would greatly reduce the implementation task for the AEC between now and the next election. They would also allow for a more mature and comprehensive debate, where all opinions can be considered by the Senate in detail, not just those within the secret club that is the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

My dissenting report presents my concerns with not only the bill but also the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. My recommendations are based on the principle that the system should encourage candidate based, not party based, below-the-line voting. The bill does not go far enough to encourage this. I also propose some inquiries to explore how the Senate can remain free of partisan politics. It is my belief that the system should be changed so the disparity between independent candidates and political parties can be narrowed. I encourage all those listening to read my dissenting report, share it with your friends and have your say to your local senator or member.

The proposal, as it stands, does not give voters full control of where their preferences go. It is very open to manipulation. The savings provisions can be manipulated by a how-to-vote card, and people will be led up the garden path by the parties who support this. There are amendments which can prevent this from happening, and I will certainly be moving them because this is supposed to be about democracy and the people having control of where their votes go.