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Monday, 25 February 2013
Page: 673


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:21): I also support the legislation before the chamber, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012, but there are some issues around electoral and referendum amendment which need to be aired in debates such as this. This bill, others related to it and the acts that this bill amends are all about elections in Australia. Of course, Australia has the enviable reputation of being one of the most democratic countries in the world where everybody has the opportunity of voting on and having a say as to their government. It does to a degree, as other speakers have mentioned, raise this question as to the Australian public, who I think in their foolishness—but it was an election and it is a democracy—in 2007 did select Mr Kevin Rudd to lead the country as Prime Minister. He was, as senators would know, the leader of the Labor Party at the time and he confused and confounded a lot of commentators by actually leading the Labor Party to a victory over what history will show was one of the best governments that Australia has ever seen, the Howard government. I think Australians became too complacent and too relaxed and comfortable and thought they could have a bit of a flutter on a new approach, so Mr Rudd led the Labor Party to a quite significant victory. But in this democracy most Australians cannot understand how the Prime Minister they elected could suddenly overnight not be the Prime Minister anymore.

At that time Mr Rudd had offended some people; his polling was not showing too much in the way of support and most Australians could not understand him when he spoke in a language that was foreign to many Australians, but they had elected him. So Australians having elected Mr Rudd had this view that, if they did not like him anymore, if they thought he was doing the wrong thing or if they thought he did not quite live up to the promises he had made, then they, as voters in a democracy, would have the opportunity to get rid of Mr Rudd. But, lo and behold, Mr Rudd did not even face the voters at the next election as the Prime Minister and many Australians still raise with me—they stop me in the street and say this—how this can happen in a democracy.

We know about the faceless men and the way the Labor Party operates and it does raise the question: for all the time that we spend on electoral bills, electoral reform and this electoral and referendum amendment bill, what is it all about when some unelected people can decide that the person that the Australian public elected as Prime Minister should no longer be there? You also have to worry about our democracy when you see, by reading NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption reports, that a person—regrettably my namesake and I hasten to assure senators and anyone who is listening to this debate that it has nothing to do with me and that he is a Labor Party person from New South Wales while I am—

Senator Madigan: On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President, there is the Australian Labor Party and there is the Democratic Labor Party and this generic slurring of the word 'Labor' is unacceptable.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): Thank you, Senator Madigan. I am sure Senator Macdonald will be mindful of that in his further contribution.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I take the point and I apologise to Senator Madigan and members and supporters of the Democratic Labor Party. Forgive me, Senator Madigan. You would appreciate it is a common but inaccurate description and I very much take your point. Certainly on the issue that I was talking about I want to absolutely make it clear to those listening that my namesake in New South Wales is a member of the Australian Labor Party. I am sure the Democratic Labor Party would never have even countenanced his membership.

He was a man selected by the Labor Party and the unions to represent New South Wales. They expected that he would act in the interests of New South Wales but it would appear—and I stress that there have been no charges and no convictions—from a reading of the evidence that that member of the Australian Labor Party did anything but look after the interests of New South Welshmen. He certainly seems to have looked after the interests of a select few people in the Australian Labor Party. That brings me back to this bill. Why do we spend all this time on this when we find that those in the Australian Labor Party, who currently hold government federally and until recently held government in every state of Australia, are elected not by the people as such, pursuant to the legislation before us, but by the union movement? We all know that the union movement currently represents less than 17 per cent of Australian workers, so you have a group that represents less than 17 per cent of Australian workers—not Australians but Australian workers—actually controlling and running the Australian Labor Party and who then decide, at the flick of a knife, whether it is Mr Rudd or Ms Julia Gillard who is the Prime Minister of our nation.

My advice to the people of Australia who might be listening to this is that, when you look around as you approach the next election, you have a decision to make as to whom you want to be running your country. Do you want some faceless men—do you want some unionists who represent less than 17 per cent of working Australians—to run the country or do you want a decent, open and accountable government of the type we had with John Howard and his team? John Howard and his team were not perfect but they were pretty good compared to this lot. I say to people: this election coming up is too important for you to fiddle with your votes. I say this particularly to Queenslanders, those in my own home state, because in Queensland there are minor parties running around—the Greens political party, the Katter party and Independents. I say to Queenslanders: if you think Ms Gillard and her team have done a good job then you should vote Labor at the next election but if you do not think that and you want to get Australia back on track then there is only one way that you can vote: for Tony Abbott and his team.

We do not have the luxury in today's day and age of being able to fiddle with parties like Katter's Australian Party or the Greens. This election will set the direction for Australia. It will attempt to bring Australia back from the brink. I have to confess, for the first time in my life I am now worried about where Australia is heading—economically, certainly, but even socially and culturally Australia seems to be being changed by the present dysfunctional government of the Australian Labor Party, the Greens and the Independents who currently run this country. We do need accountability.

I have listened to the contributions of other senators on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedures) Bill. I was impressed by what Senator Madigan had to say, though there are other issues to be taken into account. I have raised in the Senate before the issue of electoral boundaries in Queensland and people being able to vote for a lower house member who can represent their interests. I do not think the boundaries favour one party or another so this is not a partisan political comment; it is a comment about citizens being able to vote for someone they believe can represent them. We have the strange situation in Queensland where the suburb of Annandale, which is almost an inner-city suburb of Townsville, is not in the electorate of Herbert, which includes Townsville—the electorate is very well represented by Ewen Jones, the LNP member for Herbert—but is in an adjoining seat based in Mackay. I have to say the member for that seat, Dawson, is Mr George Christensen, who also does a fabulous job. He represents the people of Annandale very well. But citizens of Townsville, including the suburb of Annandale, cannot understand why their suburb, which is, as I say, almost inner-city Townsville these days, has a member of parliament who is based in Mackay, some 400 kilometres away.

To make the issue even more ridiculous, the electorate of Dawson, which covers Mackay, Proserpine, Bowen, Ayr, where I live, and parts of Townsville, does not include that part of Mackay which is called upriver from Mackay. We have the member for Dawson, based in Mackay, representing someone in an inner Townsville suburb 400 kilometres away and yet he does not represent people who are part of the Mackay community, in the upriver areas of Mackay, in the Pioneer Valley. How stupid is that? Anyone in Mackay's Pioneer Valley would naturally think George Christensen was their local MP. I know Mr Christensen does a lot of work for those people, even although they are not in his electorate.

As an aside, one of the reasons he has to do a lot of work in the Pioneer Valley is that that part of Mackay is in the electorate of Capricornia, which is currently represented by Kirsten Livermore. I can barely remember her name. Most of the electors in the electorate of Capricornia cannot remember who their representative is, because it is so long since any of them have seen her. They cannot wait to elect Michelle Landry, the LNP candidate for Capricornia, to that seat so they can have some decent representation. I like Ms Livermore as a person—she is a nice lady—but she has announced she will not be standing, and for her that is it. You just do not see her. There have been a lot of floods in Rockhampton recently and the only person on the political scene that seemed to be doing anything for Rockhampton people was Michelle Landry, the LNP candidate. We are still awaiting some decision from the Labor government on the category C assistance to small business people and farmers in the Central Queensland region. Ms Livermore should have been jumping up and down until they got that assistance, but she has been doing nothing—and the Labor government has been doing nothing. Small businessmen and farmers can get this category C assistance everywhere else in Queensland, but in Central Queensland, in the electorate of Capricornia, it is not available. Who can understand the reason, except that they are not being properly represented by their current member?

I have diverted from the bill before us. The electorate of Dawson includes part of Townsville but it does not include part of Mackay. Then we have the electorate of Capricornia, which I just mentioned, which is not represented by Ms Livermore but she is the current member. Then there is a suburb of Rockhampton, which is the base for the seat of Capricornia, that is not in the electorate of Capricornia—it is in the electorate of Flynn, which is based in Gladstone, and which I might say is well represented by Mr Ken O'Dowd, the LNP member for Flynn. How can we have a suburb of Rockhampton in the Gladstone electorate, a suburb of Mackay in the Rockhampton electorate and a suburb of Townsville in the Mackay electorate? It just does not make sense.

I know the electoral commissioners always have trouble getting the right quotas and drawing the boundaries, and I guess it is easy for people like me to sit back and criticise. But people right throughout that part of the north—an area I regularly visit—always ask why it is that if they want something in Annandale they cannot go two blocks to Ewen Jones's electorate office; they have to go 400 kilometres down to Mackay to see their member? I use that as an example only, because Ewen Jones will see them and help them; besides which, George Christensen is often in Townsville looking after that part of Townsville which is in his electorate. But it should not happen that way. I would ask the electoral commissioners to take heed of this.

It is not—I am repeating myself, but I want to because it is so important—just the suburb of Annandale that is in the Townsville electorate; it is the suburbs or localities of the Pioneer Valley that are not in Dawson, the Mackay-based electorate. There are suburbs in Rockhampton that are not part of the Rockhampton electorate of Capricornia, but are part of the adjoining electorate based on Gladstone. It is crazy. I have a feeling that at times, the electoral commissioners, in their wisdom, start in the capital cities where they live and where most Australians live, work out the numbers there and just go out from the capital cities. Of course, when you get up north where we are, we just take what is left over.

I think it is very important that the electoral commissioners and those charged with the responsibility of having boundaries should actually seriously look at representation, because this bill before us and all of our electoral laws are about representation. They are about people electing a local member to look after their interests. The way the boundaries are drawn, particularly outside the capital city area in my home state of Queensland, are such that it is very difficult to properly administer and look after those electorates. I again pay tribute to Mr Ewen Jones, Mr George Christiansen and Mr Ken O'Dowd for the work they do in representing their areas, even those areas far away from their bases. Really, governments should do something about this.

I conclude my remarks on this bill, again, with a plea to the Australian public. This bill and the acts which the bill amends are all about democracy and accountability. They are about voting in a government you want. They are about voting in a prime minister you want; a prime minister like Hon. Kevin Rudd. The people of Australia elected him—I think they made a mistake—but that is what the people of Australia did and Australia is a democracy. We all accept that is what the people of Australia did. If we are going to have a democracy, how can you have this situation where the Australian people, having chosen Mr Rudd to be their prime minister, get to the next election and he is no longer there? Was he overturned by a vote of the Australian people? Was he overturned by a vote of elected members of the Labor Party? The answer to both those questions is 'no.' We all know, and hopefully no-one in the Labor Party will dare to challenge this, that he was overturned because of some faceless men in the Australian Labor Party administration and some of the union chiefs—I have heard Mr Paul Howes mentioned, and I would throw in Mr Bill Ludwig from Queensland, two individuals who can practically run Australia.

How is that for democracy? Two individuals; people from the AWU who have such influence on the Australian Labor Party they can determine who should be the prime minister and who should be ministers in the government—no doubt either relatives or friends. You only have to look at the mess that has happened in New South Wales. It all started when Senator Carr was the premier there: you have these faceless men running the country. I and many other Australians sit back and say: 'Why are we debating electoral bills? This country can be run, effectively, by a couple of union heavies.' That is a worry.

I think there is a better way forward. I would hope that the Australian people might come to the same conclusion and do something about that when we next go to the polls federally. Having said that, I do, as I indicated earlier, support the bill before us.