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Monday, 25 February 2013
Page: 670

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (12:08): Whilst I acknowledge some of the issues that the government has attempted to address in the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012 in relation to the participation of many people across the country who have tended to fall through the cracks, I have some serious concerns about the section of the bill that increases the nomination fees for candidates by 100 per cent in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. For the House of Representatives the fee will increase from $500 to $1,000 and for the Senate it will increase from $1,000 to $2,000. These increases, I have been told, have been introduced supposedly because the ballot papers in New South Wales were getting too big. Another argument that has been put to me is that it is to stop nutters or fringe groups from running for parliament. Well, who do you think you are to say who are the fringe and who are the nutters? In a democracy, all people have the right to participate in that democracy, whether you like it or not.

It seems to me that more and more people are voting for the so-called minor parties, the smaller parties, and Independents—or the fringe or nutters, as some people in this place call them—because they are sick to death of the way the parliament is run. They are taking democracy back into their own hands because they are fed up. They are taking it back where it belongs, and that is with the people. The Australian parliament is the parliament of the people. Parliament House is the house of the people, contrary to what some people may think.

I have spoken to almost half the minor parties on the Australian Electoral Commission website and, without fail, every one of them sees these increases—increases that they were largely unaware of—as a deliberate attack on the ability of small and medium parties and Independents to participate in the democratic process. Representatives of groups as varied as the Christian Democratic Party, the Socialist Alliance, the Liberal Democratic Party and Family First all stood together in opposing these increases and in stating that they see the deliberate attempt behind these increases by the duopoly of Australian politics and they will not forget it when the parties come on their three-yearly crawl for preferences. They are not going to forget it. The fact is that the major parties on both sides in this place want the preferences when it comes to election time, but they want to curtail the ability of the smaller parties and Independents to participate in the political process. Quite frankly, I can see why there is a lack of will to deal with the duopoly in this country, when now we have a situation where we are going to install the duopoly in the political process.

We heard earlier today about the party machines. I agree with Senator Joyce about state representation. Personally I do not believe senators should even be ministers. I believe ministers should all be in the lower house so that the Senate can actually do its job and represent the states. I am sure there will be plenty of people in this place who would not like that opinion. There are plenty of people in the coalition and the ALP—and we have heard Paul Howes from the AWU mentioned—who will not have any trouble with the nomination fees. We do not hear much talk about these increases in fees and the fact that they are going to come in as of 1 July this year. And you wonder why the smaller parties and Independents view this increase in the fees with some cynicism, when we are on the verge of a federal election.

We in the DLP and the other minor parties support Senator Xenophon's amendments for the transparency of political donations. The Constitution talks about taxes. Maybe the Senate Select Committee on Scrutiny of New Taxes should have had a look at this bill, because I wonder whether this is a tax on smaller parties and Independents to drive them out of the democratic process.

As I said earlier, while I acknowledge the government's attempts to engage people who now fall through the cracks, I think there are major inconsistencies with what is being said in this legislation. You are telling people A, B and C, and you are doing X, Y and Z. Let me assure you that the smaller parties will not forget what is being foisted upon them with this bill.