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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4907

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (6:03 PM) —I found that an extraordinary exercise in casuistry on the part of Senator Sherry because, whilst he made at least four attempts to say how statesmanlike Senator Murray's contribution had been, I kept waiting for his objection. Eventually we heard it: they did not want to create an unnecessary system, whatever that means. In other words, he is really conceding that Labor will not have a bar of anything that smacks of a secret ballot.

Senator Sherry —That is not right.

Senator ALSTON —It certainly is right. You trot out those lines about `incapable of independent thought'; you might as well say that about voting at general elections. This is the party that invented `show and tell'. And why did they do that? Because they do not trust people to vote in the right way. In fact, you get expelled from caucus, don't you, if you vote against something in the parliament that is contrary to the party line?

Senator Carr —What do you do?

Senator ALSTON —We don't. I don't know anything about it; sorry.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Sandy Macdonald)—Order! Senator Carr, if you wish to interject, return to your place.

Senator ALSTON —It is worth pointing out the monumental hypocrisy of all these honeyed words that somehow have the veneer of reasonableness but disguise the very ugly fact that the unions are terrified of secret ballots, that they do not trust workers and that they are not prepared to allow them to have a view on a very important issue without telling the rest of the world about it. As we know, in the real world you can lean on people, you can send them to Coventry— you can do all sorts of things if you regard someone as a troublemaker. That is what the whole game is about; otherwise you would have no objection in principle to secret ballots. It just seems extraordinary to me.

Senator Sherry floated the complete red herring that no union official would ever insist on a ballot without a debate. Who is precluding prestrike debates? This bill does not do so. You can have endless debates about it; you can kick it around as much as you like. You can speak; you don't have to speak; you can listen to the arguments. All we are talking about here is the vote. And all we say is: what have you got to hide? Why are you so afraid of secret ballots? It is the antithesis of democracy.

Senator Mackay —How do you select your front bench?

Senator ALSTON —On merit. I think sometimes you do, too; otherwise Senator Carr would have been there, through sheer brute force of numbers, some years ago.