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Brown argues for abolishing preferences deals -

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Brown argues for abolishing preferences deals

Broadcast: 19/07/2010

Reporter: Leigh Sales

National Greens leader, Senator Bob Brown, joins Lateline to discuss the preferences deal with


LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Do the Greens share Antony Green's analysis of their preference deal with

A short time ago, the Greens leader Bob Brown joined me from our Adelaide studio.

Senator Brown, thanks for joining us tonight.


LEIGH SALES: Labor and the Greens announced a preference deal today, but then you said later that
voters should make up their own minds. What's going on there? Are the Greens happy with this
preference deal or not?

BOB BROWN: Well the Greens have had some very diligent people working on preferences with the other
parties, but I've made it no secret for years now, I don't think there should be preference deals.

I tried in the Senate; I moved a bill for above-the-line voting in the Senate so that voters chose
their parties in the order of choice, not the political parties. But of course Labor, the Liberals
and the Nationals voted that down 'cause they don't want voters to have that choice. I think they

And so we've got to have preference negotiations because you've got to put in a form for
preferences to the Electoral Commission a week or two out from the election and that leads on to
negotiations for the House of Rep's. But, I'll try again in the next Parliament to get rid of it.

It's up to voters to choose who they want to put number one, and they're quite intelligent enough
to choose who they put number two, three, four and five. And we'd avoid such perverse outcomes as
the election of Steven Fielding on less than two per cent of the vote with Labor preferences, which
Labor voters hated in Victoria just a few years ago, if we were to leave it to the voters.

LEIGH SALES: But the rules that you're talking about only affect Upper House and Senate
preferences, don't they? So why have you had to do a deal for Lower House preferences if you don't
actually agree with it?

BOB BROWN: Well exactly. There shouldn't be preference negotiations for either, but there always
are, because if you don't get involved in preference negotiations you get cut out and your voters
do and your candidates do. It's a perverse system, it should be abolished, but it's there, the
Greens take part in it the same as every other political party and there'll be how-to-vote cards as
a result of that in, I'm told, 50 or so seats.

I heard that on the ABC today, and - but my advice is regardless of that people should go into the
polling booth and vote for the people they want in the order of choice and people want to give -
I'd advise them to vote Greens number one, but if they're going to do that, then go to Labor Party
or the Liberals or the Nationals or the Socialist Alliance or for the Independent of their choice.

LEIGH SALES: So, basically you're saying to people, "Well, ignore the preference deal that my
party's announced."

BOB BROWN: Exactly and ignore the preference deal that Labor's done and the Liberals have done and
put your own preferences where you want to.

LEIGH SALES: But I can't imagine that Labor would be very happy having negotiated this deal then to
give your their preferences for the Senate, I can't imagine that they'd be very happy to hear you
saying this.

BOB BROWN: But, Leigh, I'm not here to make Labor happy. I'm here to do the right thing by voters.
And what I want to - I'm concerned that voters hear about all this preference deals and think, "Oh,
well, I must get a card and find out where I should put my preferences." And what I'm here to do is
to tell people they have a right, and it's their democratic obligation, to put their preferences
where they want to.

Sure, we're in this position where the preferences are required by electoral law in the Senate. We
should move to the NSW Upper House situation where people vote for their own - the parties
according to their own choice above the line and there's no preference deals of this variety
allowed. It should be removed by law.

LEIGH SALES: But you just pointed out that, as you say, it's the preference deal is required for
the Senate, but the Greens have also done a deal for preferences in the Lower House. If you're so
opposed to it in principle, why didn't you as the party leader simply say, "Well actually I'm just
not going along with this"?

BOB BROWN: Because, ah, the - I'm not - the party determines preferences and I've stayed out of it.
And ...

LEIGH SALES: But you're the leader.

BOB BROWN: I am, and my job's to tell people about our policies and to promote our candidates, not
to get involved in backroom deals on preferences. The party do that and I'm obliged to the people
who do it, because I used to and I hated it, and I think there's much more productive things to do.

And we're talking about preferences now, Leigh, when I wanna be talking about the backdown on the
minerals taxes and the need for a carbon price and the need for getting rid of discrimination
against same sex people in marriage - things that the big parties don't want to talk about, but I
want to talk about in the run to the election.

LEIGH SALES: I'll come to some of those policy questions in a second, but just let me ask one more
question on the preferences.


LEIGH SALES: How do you respond to the suggestion that you're trying to have it both ways here,
that you want Labor's help through their preferences for the Greens to get the balance of power in
the Senate, but you don't want people to be preferencing Labor in the Lower House?

BOB BROWN: Well my advice is in the Senate, do what I do and vote under line, vote for people in
the order of your choice. Again, don't be told how to vote according to a preference card from
Labor, the Liberals, the Greens, the Nationals, Socialist Alliance, or anybody! Ditto. It's a bit
more complicated - and people should know this, Leigh, that if they do muck up their voting card,
because there's a lot of names on it, they can screw that up and go and get another one until
they're happy with it.

You know, it's - people need to know about these things so that they can be very happy when they
come out of the polling booth that they've voted for who they want to, not who some person in a
party, in a backroom has determined they should vote for.

LEIGH SALES: But are you worried that the Greens are sending a mixed message to voters in that your
party's announced this deal and they're gonna be handing out how-to-vote cards and yet you're in
public saying, "Oh, actually, well I don't really support this deal"?

BOB BROWN: Well I'm told that in some states at least the how-to-vote cards'll have "Vote the way
you think you should, consider your own vote and make up your own mind. If you can't, here's how
the preferences go." And I hope all the parties'll do that because it'll be a move in the right

LEIGH SALES: Does it undermine the Greens' credibility that you've done a preferences deal with a
party that shelved its response to climate change, the so-called great moral challenge of our time?

BOB BROWN: Well, we - the alternative is to do a preference deal - and I know preference talks are
taking place with the Coalition - where Tony Abbott says he'll never have a carbon price. Now
that's highly irresponsible, but I'm not gonna stop talking with him because he's been highly
irresponsible in not wanting and not allowing for a carbon price. And I mean, if you looked at the
- both the big parties want to keep our troops in Afghanistan, have no exit plan, have had no
parliamentary debate about it. I'm not going to stop talking with them because I disagree with them
on that.

LEIGH SALES: Well let me ask you about your relationships with both leaders, because if you did end
up holding the balance of power in the Senate it could be very important. How would you describe
your relationship with Tony Abbott? Have the pair of you had much to do with each other?

BOB BROWN: Oh, we had one good meeting after he became leader and it was very friendly and, you
know, we've met in the corridor and so on before, but it was a bit of an icebreaker, I suppose.
Tony'll comment on that. But I saw enough there to know that if he becomes the Prime Minister I'll
be able to talk with him and so will my colleagues, talk with their counterparts in a Coalition

You know, it's nice to know people, because I know that that won't be hard. We will have huge
disagreements on policies, but we're there to get better outcomes through being in the balance of
power in the Senate, Leigh, and ditto, when I met ...

LEIGH SALES: Oh, sorry. Let me - I think you were about to go on to Julia Gillard that I was going
to ask about, so please go on.

BOB BROWN: I was, yeah. Well, I've met Julia a number of times, negotiating such things as Rachel
Siewert, West Australian senator, wanted to ensure that parents of disabled children had more
flexible working hours when it came to the family work laws.

So we were able to work that through with Julia Gillard. We've also been able to get other outcomes
and I've found her a straight talker. I think - and my experience is she'll do what she says she
does. She says she's going to treat Senators with respect and she'll certainly get respect, as will
Tony Abbott from me and my colleagues in a future government.

LEIGH SALES: Let's go to a few policy issues. Let's say that Labor does get East Timor's support to
establish an offshore processing centre for asylum seekers there. If the Greens did hold the
balance of power in the Senate, is that a policy you could see yourself supporting?

BOB BROWN: No, we believe - well, let me say this: that the alternative in that situation, if I
hear Tony Abbott right, would be to put a processing centre in Nauru. So we'd look at the
circumstances of both those options, remembering that we believe that asylum seekers should be
brought ashore in Australia and properly processed and if they're genuine given Australian - a
place in the Australian community where they've always become very, very productive. If they're not
genuine send them home.

That said, we'll look at the options. I have myself a good working relationship with the president
of East Timor, Jose Ramos Horta, and I also in the next Parliament will be working to see that that
country - the poorest in our region, so why we would want to put our refugee cost and expenses into
East Timor, I don't know, particularly when the parliament's voted against it - but to see that
they do get Woodside to do the right thing and put the oil and gas facilities ashore in East Timor
so it has got development, so that it has got - can get past its 30 or 40 per cent unemployment and
so it does get some assistance and is not just lent upon when there's a problem by an Australian

LEIGH SALES: Where do the Greens stand on the question of a big Australia?

BOB BROWN: Well, we believe - I moved in the Parliament to have an independent inquiry into
Australia's future population and I will move that again in the next Parliament.

I believe that the Australian community should be consulted.

The Prime Minister says, "Well, let's have consensus." You won't get that on population, but you at
least should go to rural and regional Australia, to the big cities, to the western suburbs, to
business, to the unions, to the non-government organisations and the statisticians as well, and
then we have to frame the Australian future on - if by sustainability the Prime Minister means
having the infrastructure to make it fair for Australians - fast public transport, good housing,
open spaces, good education and health and so on, we go along with that.

But we have to also respect the fact that there's a - when I came on to this planet, there were 2.7
billion people. There's now seven billion, and it's headed for nine to 10 billion by 2050.

This is a huge global crisis and we need to be doing much more in terms of aid to the rest of the
world to raise levels of education to help hold back this burgeoning population for our own
security, but also for the well-being of people right around the world, not least by giving women
their rightful education, clean water and food for bringing up families and that'll be the best
thing we can do to contribute to slowing down and eventually having that sustainable world
population that Julia Gillard talks about us having domestically. We've got to have that globally
as well.

LEIGH SALES: Senator Bob Brown, we're out of time unfortunately. Thank you very much for joining us

BOB BROWN: Thanks, Leigh.