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Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Page: 9121


Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (21:18): I won't take up too much of the Senate's time as many of the substantive issues have been dealt with in other contributions to my own and to other amendments.

I was listening to Senator Wong, and I got from Senator Wong that what has happened in the Labor Party on a bunch of these amendments is that they have independently come to the same position—I think they have 25 senators, 25 independent minds, at the moment in their group—on these amendments. Now, it is a possibility that has occurred, but I think we should bring some quantitative rigour to the likelihood of such a circumstance that 25 independently minded human beings might come to that position.

To do that we can use a very simple Bernoulli distribution—I have been informed about it by my good colleague Senator McKenzie—using binomial probability. What is the chance of that happening? Out there in the general population, 60 per cent of people voted yes and 40 per cent voted no. So the likely situation is that around 40 per cent of the Australian population probably supports the amendments that are being moved here—

Senator Hinch: Thirty-eight!

Senator CANAVAN: I'm happy to put 38 or 62 into the calculator for you, Senator Hinch, through you, Chair. We can work that out because we have 25 different independent trials, apparently, with a probability of roughly 0.62, according to Senator Hinch. You get an outcome of 0.0000234. That is the probability that 25 independently minded Labor senators have all come to the same conclusion—0.0000234! That's one possibility. It's a pretty slim possibility. That's one potential outcome, by using the well-established Bernoulli distribution. I should say that that conclusion assumes that all of the trials—in this case, all of the decisions—are independent of each other; they're not dependent on each other.

If that assumption fails, there's the other outcome: maybe the decision over there was dependent on other people's decisions. Maybe all 25 weren't independent trials. Then it would be a much more likely outcome. I think that what we can really see over there tonight is that there have not been 25 independent decisions made by the Labor caucus. They have come together as a lot, they have been dependent on each other and, unfortunately, once again, whether it's a minority view or not, the Labor Party do not allow the freedom of expression of individual senators into this place. In my view that is an unfortunate narrowing of our democratic debate.

The debate tonight, I think, would have been a lot richer for contributions from some Labor senators who I know have certain conscientious viewpoints on many of these issues. It would have been a richer debate to hear from that rich tradition within the Labor Party that would otherwise normally stand up on these issues. I actually don't believe that there's been this random event with a probability of well under point zero zero something per cent where they've all independently come to the same decision. I think what's actually happened is that the Labor Party has enforced its traditional discipline on its members and, unfortunately, deprived the Australian parliament and the Australian people of the viewpoints of individual senators in their party room on these very important and weighty issues.