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Wednesday, 21 June 2006
Page: 42

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (12:19 PM) —The Greens support the Do Not Call Register Bill 2006 and the Do Not Call Register (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2006. This legislation is groundbreaking legislation and it deserves support. As other speakers have said, the harassment that people get, particularly at mealtimes, from people making unwanted calls—many of them coming from outside the country—to try to get them to sign up to some scheme or other or to buy some product or other goes beyond the pale. The disadvantage is that the people who are most at home are most affected. The people who are out and about the most miss a lot of those calls. I guess I have just discovered an ameliorating factor for failing to get home very often—but I know where I would rather be.

We will be supporting the legislation. We will also be supporting the amendments, insofar as they would prevent political calls being made to canvass people at election time or between election times and to try to gain political favour. We do not support legislation that allows that. There are conventional ways of advertising to people on their way to the ballot box, and the harassment of getting highly technologically charged and impersonal calls from political parties or politicians is not a good thing. However, we part company with Family First when it comes to polling. If Family First has the means to fractionate polling, we would look at it more seriously. But Australia is a democracy, and opinion making is very often led by asking a sample of people how they think about what the politicians are doing.

Those opinion polls often come up with surprising results. They show trends. They showed the trend, for example, against the government in the Iraq war; mind you, there was majority opinion against the war before the government supported the Bush administration in going to Iraq. They show the favour or disfavour of the government and political parties, that is for sure, but that is not so important as the issues. For example, some remarkable polling quite recently showed that Australians believe that West Papuans have a right to self-determination. Going back to the East Timor issue, it is the same: both the big parties were in favour of the Indonesian dominance of East Timor but the polls showed that Australians felt differently about that.

It is important that we know when representative democracy is failing to be representative, because democracy is also under the power of influence of big money. That means that politicians, particularly the executive, can get it very wrong. How can you put a ban on opinion pollsters ringing people at home to find out what Australians think? How can Family First argue that that is a healthy thing for democracy?

Senator Stott Despoja —It is not. Bob, the amendment is specific to political parties.

Senator BOB BROWN —But I am not talking about yours, Senator.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—Order! Don’t discuss the matter amongst yourselves. I am sure the Senate would rather you addressed the chair, Senator Brown.

Senator BOB BROWN —I will show Senator Stott Despoja that she need have no worry. Senator Fielding just argued that political polling should be effectively blocked. You cannot have some of the Australian community ringing up and saying, ‘Put a bar against my name and do not allow people to ring me,’ and then think that you will still get a good representative sample when polling by phone—it would effectively skew that polling. My advice, Senator Stott Despoja, is that your motion does not do that, and the Greens will be supporting it. My advice, contrary to Senator Fielding’s, is that his motion does not do it either—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Brown, my advice would be that if you could address the chair that would be very much appreciated.

Senator Stott Despoja interjecting—

Senator BOB BROWN —Yes—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Brown, I have asked you to address the chair on a three occasions now.

Senator Heffernan —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. If Senator Stott Despoja has some problem with Senator Brown addressing the chamber, she should deal with it in another place, not here now.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I have already given that direction, Senator Heffernan. I thank you for drawing my attention to it again, but there is no point of order.

Senator BOB BROWN —You are quite right, Mr Acting Deputy President: on this occasion there is no point of order. But let me repeat to you what I thought you could hear: Senator Stott Despoja need have no worry; and I think Senator Fielding is wrong, because I do not think his motion will have the impact of cutting off pollsters, and we would not be supporting it if it did. But, sure, stop politicians and big money.

We have just had legislation go through the chamber which allows an enormous increase in secret donations going to the party machines. The Greens voted against it, but the government got it through. We have just opposed provisions which cut tens of thousands of young people out of voting on polling day. We think this is a black day for democracy. It is a day on which the debate is also on about the government taking over the Senate committee system. I want to make it clear that the Greens would not support another indirect attack on democracy by supporting any motion that would prevent pollsters from doing phone polling on the big issues of the day to gauge what Australians think, and to feed that into the political firmament.