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Tuesday, 25 November 2003
Page: 22857

Mr ANDREN (8:08 PM) —This document, Resolving deadlocks: a discussion paper on possible changes to section 57 of the Australian Constitution, which was presented to the parliament in October, is a transparent attempt to stem the tide of alternatives that, as the major parties would say, have infected our parliamentary system in recent years. I would say it has refreshed our parliamentary system. We have seen the arrival of the Independents and minor parties—particularly the Independents—in numbers in the state legislatures around the country in recent years. We also see that trend continuing. In fact, votes for candidates who are not members of the major parties consistently sit at about 21 per cent of the vote for the House of Representatives at a federal level and at about 30 to 33 per cent in the state legislatures.

That is surely saying something. The Australian people are looking for those longterm alternatives. They have found them in the Senate, where that house best represents the kaleidoscope of the Australian electorate in all of its variations of political pursuit these days. They are looking for that sort of representation, and they are securing and cementing it. They do not want it tampered with. If either of these so-called models—the PM's model or the Lavarch model—were put to the Australian people, they would be rejected outright. Even with a coalition of the willing of the Labor and coalition parties out there spending millions of dollars promoting one or the other of those models they would be rejected, because the Australian people want their Senate to be a house that has not only a review role but a veto role if the circumstances warrant it.

Once, while in opposition, the Prime Minister said—and no doubt other opposition leaders of any colour have said—that the mandate view of politics is a nonsense, or some words to that effect. Of course the mandate view of politics is a nonsense. The Australian people in this modern age do not accept that the twoparty model is the only model or that the side that wins the lower house has an absolute mortgage on commonsense and its list of policy options are to be adopted without question because of some mandate which is cobbled together in this day and age by a reluctant allocation of preferences from, in many cases, people who are forced to see their vote trickle down to the options which they least want—the major parties. The Australian people do not accept that that in some magic way delivers a mandate to a party that may enjoy at best 37, 38 or 39 per cent of the vote.

What a nonsense to argue then that the upper house, the Senate, is blocking and rejecting the will of the Australian people. The winner take all days are over. Let it sink in. Let the major parties ponder that: the winner take all days are over. There has to be a realisation that not only is proportional representation attractive to the electorate for the Senate, but people want it more and more when they understand its processes in their people's house—the House of Representatives. They realise too, more and more, that democracies around the world, apart from those that grew out of the British model, have proportional representation. The critics throw up the Italian argument and talk about 55 governments since the war. Let us look at some of the other governments that deliver democratic outcomes in Europe, such as Switzerland and others.

Why do we need an opposition or a Senate if the mandate is to be realised unchallenged? The PM said that the mandate view of politics is a nonsense. I wonder whether he holds to that now. I suggest that the proposed changes included in this document would completely override the will of the founding fathers, for they wanted a balance between the people's house and the Senate. So it is not a problem of the Constitution that we should be debating; it is a problem of the parties and the lack of a conscience vote—the tight control of those party members. A person came up to me at a function in Orange the other day—I will not put his name on the record, but he is a very prominent member of a prominent party who was once a candidate—and said, `Thank God I didn't win. I could never sit down and not be able to cross the floor, because for one I would want to vote against the full privatisation of Telstra.' He said, `I can appreciate what you have been saying for these seven or eight years'. It was all of a bit of a mystery trip to me when I got in and started looking at this thing and realised that people were absolutely fed up with the party structure and that they wanted that choice—and they are going to want it more and more. That is particularly showing up in our state legislatures. Let us look at just a few of the points in the document. There is this complaint:

... the election of an even number of senators at a half-Senate election, combined with proportional representation, has meant that it is virtually impossible for a government to obtain a majority in the upper house, no matter how large its majority is in the lower house.

I weep for the major parties over that point! What about Telstra? What about the GST? What mandate was there for them? Yet a mandate is argued, and the Senate somehow is obstructionist! What I would love to see is a cross-bench in the lower house, like in those European parliaments and like New Zealand has now. My orchardists, who once were rusted-on National Party members, are now confronted by the realities of free trade agreements and globalisation impacts which may mean they will have to dismantle their quarantine protections. We have had an ongoing struggle with New Zealand for many years over the fire blight issue, and that surely will also be on the table for debate, and perhaps we will have to water down the restrictions that keep that dreaded disease out of our apple and horticultural industries. But members of the major parties seem to be compliant to—and I see them succumbing to—the forces of the agenda that insists that we give away those trade advantages and those very real and important protections for our industry.

Here I have my orchardists, once rusted-on but no longer National Party supporters; at the other end of the spectrum, we have the Berlei workers of Lithgow, who for generations worked in that factory, only to see their jobs exported to Indonesia—and for what purpose? To improve the dividends to the shareholders, not to improve the price of undergarments—not that I buy many foundation garments—for the people who wander into your Grace Bros or wherever. Indeed, they are dearer than they were when they were made in Lithgow. These guys in Lithgow and my farmers in Orange are soul mates now. They know they have not got an answer from their political representation over the years that has answered at least those most basic of concerns. That is why they are fed up. That is why they are voting for not only a check and balance but a watchdog that will toss out, revolt against and reject legislation that has not got a mandate. They know it is a nonsense to talk about that. Get real. This is the new reality of modern politics.

The report talks about experiences in the last century when section 57 has been invoked and has not worked. But the deadlock dissipated with the change of government in several cases, and in other cases the legislation was not even reintroduced. So how serious was the government of the day in bringing on that double dissolution? The fact that after a double dissolution the government has been defeated three times and a bill passed only once shows that the will of the people was not being reflected by that bill, and that a double dissolution was in fact called for. The double dissolution, as we have it now, is an option for the government of the day. But to argue that we should have a double sitting automatically, in any form, even after a general election, is not what I believe the people of this nation want.

They are happy with the system as it stands in the upper house. It is the representative kaleidoscope of the electorate. They are happy with that. That is why we have the Independents. That is why we have the One Nation representation—because they got eight per cent of the vote at one point. If they get 30 per cent of the vote on the back of Pauline Hanson's martyrdom, so be it. Let them prove themselves in the House and get tossed out if they do not prove themselves. Why do these glorious parties that have been around for 30, 40 or 100 years believe that they have the mortgage on democracy in this place? They do not, and the people realise it.

What the people do want is for proportional representation to show up more and more in their representation in the people's house. I know that the member for Cunningham is working on a piece of legislation that will call for a royal commission into proportional representation for both houses of parliament. I do not expect much support for that out there in `politics land', but I tell you there will be a lot of support out there in `voter land' for it. Unless we reconnect with the voters who want that sort of mandate recognised, we will just muddle on and see documents like this—aimed at doing nothing more than shoring up a declining vote. This is a panic document; it is not a democratic discussion document.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Gash) adjourned.

Main Committee adjourned at 8.21 p.m.