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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 50

Senator BROWN (11:56 AM) —It is great to be back. I am looking forward to the coming three years; it is going to be very interesting indeed. I congratulate those who have won House of Representatives and Senate seats and I commiserate with those who did not. We have a robust democracy, and for everyone who does win a seat there are five to 10 people who stand and do not. It is a great credit to them that they offer voters choice and that they have the courage and the public spiritedness to put themselves forward. In congratulating the government I am of course congratulating a minority government in both houses. Before the hubris and the arrogance that tend to creep into governments with control of both houses get taken too far, I remind senators opposite that the Howard team got 46.7 per cent of the vote in the House of Representatives and 45 per cent of the vote in the Senate. In other words, the government failed to get a majority vote in either house, although that has translated into majorities under the preferential system that we have in this country.

It is also notable that, due to that preferential system, which is unfortunately too easily manipulated by the parties, the Greens will have two new members—and, boy, are we going to know about Christine Milne and Rachel Siewert in this place as of 1 July next year—and we required 458,000 votes for each of those Senate seats. Contrast that with the coalition and the Labor Party, who required about 260,000 votes per Senate seat. Then there is Labor's Family First representative from Victoria, who required considerably fewer than 100,000 votes—in fact, it was a tiny vote. Family First required 1.88 per cent, or 56,000 votes in Victoria; and 210,000 votes nationally to win a seat—in other words, much less than half the number that was required by the Greens.

One of the dastardly things that occurred was a central decision by the Labor Party to allow preferencing of Family First as a means of trying to blackmail the Greens into preference arrangements in the House of Representatives. It has backfired and we will continue to remind the Labor Party about that. However, what has come out of that is a look at the democracy that we have and how we might have parliaments best reflecting the will of the people.

A while ago, Senator Nettle spoke about the need for proportional representation in the House of Representatives so that we catch up with modern democratic practice in Europe and in many other parts of the world. That is something that the Greens stand for and will continue to pursue. Indeed, if the Greens vote of over seven per cent in the House of Representatives were translated into a proportion of the votes, there would be more than 10 Green members of the House of Representatives and that is how democracy would have it. Instead there is zero, under the unfairness of the non-proportional representative system which both the big parties adhere to.

I have spoken about the Senate but we ought to be taking a leaf from the New South Wales book. Legislation there—introduced by my Greens colleagues into the upper house and then adopted by the parliament—means that there is the opportunity for voters to vote preferentially above the line. That is, from one party to another so that they are not tricked, defrauded or misled, as they were in the last election, by a preferencing system where the parties lodged their preferences and many voters were not aware. The Greens will be moving to introduce above the line preferencing into the Senate in the new year as part of the reform of democracy coming out of the election and the improvement of empowerment of the people in an age when the principle of one person, one vote, one value is seriously under threat in some of the great old democracies of the world. Of course, Australia is one of the oldest and most successful democracies on the face of the planet.

One of the things that exercised the minds of many people in this country in the last election—more than in any other election in a long time—is the requirement that electors get truth in advertising and are not misinformed. The parliament removed the need for truth in advertising as part of the Commonwealth Electoral Act in 1984 under the then Hawke government. However, there was some halter on it through FACTS, the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations, which until 2002 required truth in advertising on the electronic media. That was then removed. The argument was that there was a legal doubt over the ability of FACTS to regulate truth in advertising. The lid was right off, for the first time in Australian history, in the 2004 elections. So we had a range of advertising which went from mischievous to downright lying.

I, for one, deplore the trend towards negative attack advertising which has been adopted from the American milieu not only by the government in particular but also by both big parties. But attack advertising is one thing; another thing is deceiving the electorate. The excesses of that can be seen in the attacks on the Greens by the Family First party—a Christian based party coming from the Assemblies of God and other religious backgrounds which amongst other things ran advertisements in key electorates like South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland saying, for example:

Heroin? Ecstasy? The Greens want to legalise the whole lot.

That is an absolute lie. That has never been the case. That is not policy and will not be policy. Then directly:

They're giving my kids easy access to marijuana.

That is a lie. It is an absolute falsehood from a Christian based party to an electorate to defraud and deceive that electorate deliberately to have vote changes. Finally, from the Family First party:

That's not green, Bob, that's extreme.

Naming me in association with policies that are not mine and that were not the Greens policies but a direct breach of the seventh commandment by this Christian based Family First party in a premeditated effort to deceive innocent voters. If we get that from the Christian right, what can we expect from elsewhere across the spectrum? We can expect worse. Coming from even further to the right we had the Reverend Fred Nile in New South Wales, who claims a direct link with God in the promulgation of his politics, saying:


Et cetera. He goes on to say:

Now they're set to take their plans nationwide. It must bring a smile to child-abusers in every suburb.

Not only is that not godlike, it is downright evil and sinful. It is a downright deception as well as a calumny of the Greens—a mischievous, downright and very evil deception of the electorate coming from the Christian right. There is a challenge here to Christians throughout this country. I spoke about this on the weekend at the national conference of the Greens because this is a challenge that must be taken up by the many Greens who are Christians. Now that the extreme right of the church has entered politics so directly there is a challenge to the good-hearted, true adherents of the humanitarian, egalitarian and loving policies of Christianity to claim back Christianity and not to leave it to these distorted, malicious and deliberately deceptive adherents of what they say is Christianity when it is nothing of the sort. There is a challenge to good-hearted Christian people around the country.

Senator BROWN —What I have to say there is that we do need truth in advertising, not least when it comes to advertising in the run to the elections. What a contortion! We have got an embarrassed and somewhat guilty response from the government. They can speak for themselves about this matter, as you say.

Senator BROWN —He is talking about Liberals for Forests. They are no friends of ours whatsoever. He needs to go and speak to some of the other parties about that one. But it endorses my point that the public in a democracy—and democracies depend on information being correct and on having a well-informed voting public—have a right to be protected from deception, manipulation and lies. In response to that right, we have a responsibility to legislate to ensure they get it. I do not believe that any entity—be it one looking after the removal of restrictions in trade practices and so on—has an inherent right to influence this nation so that it is fed lies in advertising in general, let alone lies in the presentation of the party policies in the run to an election.

The government will have 39 seats in this place, backed up by the Labor Family First representative, as of 1 July next year. I know that there is a fair bit of hubris attached to that. The government feels that it is going to be in full control. It has attenuated the sittings before 1 July so it can bring in anything it wants. As the government sees it, it can turn the Senate into the rubber stamp it has made out of the House of Representatives since it took office. Well, really! What will be required is an absolute and slavish adherence to the executive by every senator on the government side. If only one demurs on any one issue, the government is going to be seen to be fractured and not in control.

Senator BROWN —Here we have the government envying the Greens and our position in the parliament. I can assure you we are going to be very happy to test out the government on a whole range of issues. Senator Nettle gave a very cohesive and comprehensive list of those issues on which the government is going to find itself tested after 1 July next year. But here is the point: it was the practice, particularly before the crossbench had control of the balance of power—not control of the Senate, but a say through the balance of power—for government members to cross the floor, not just in this house but in the other place. Who can forget William Charles Wentworth? We are going to see that again. We are going to see it on issues which we might be able to predict, like the sale of Telstra, but we are also going to see it on issues we cannot yet predict.

Senator Kemp —Live in hope, Bob!

Senator BROWN —I do not live in hope; I live in an assuredness which comes from history and from human nature. Here is a government that could not even get off on the right foot in this term of absolute power. We have had a month of totally negative, nonproductive debate about abortion law reform, because the Prime Minister did not put an end to it at the outset if it was to go nowhere. He left it for weeks and, just this week, put it aside after agonising by many, many people in the community, including members of his own party. He recognised that there was a schism coming and said, `I have got to get this off the agenda.' He had to speak very directly to Mr Abbott to do so. If that is in the wake of an election victory, what is coming down the line on contentious issues for a party which depends on every single member in the Senate being rock solid?

It is going to be an interesting Senate. We will see interesting times. We will see the guillotine and the gag used to get contentious issues through here. Nevertheless, you have to vote. There is no way you can avoid a vote if you want to bring through new laws, and that is going to test every one of the 39 senators, who are required to vote. If one demurs, if one says, `I cannot go along with that,' if one says, `I am from the bush; I will not sell Telstra,' or if one says, `It goes against my principle to support this piece of government legislation,' the legislation fails. Without a majority, the matter is resolved in the negative. So I think we are in for a very, very interesting and up-beat Senate period. It will be an exciting and testing time and one which, for those who despair in the thought that the government is in total control, is going to test the complexity and the spread of thinking of a great party like the Liberal Party and its coalition subordinates. I absolutely look forward to every day, every month and every year of this period of government.

I want to highlight some issues that Senator Nettle spoke about that this government is going to have to do something about. The first is Indigenous health. How can this government remain indifferent to spending less per head on Indigenous health than for the rest of the country when the Indigenous population dies 20 years younger on average, has awesome infant mortality rates and suffers the dreadful scourge of petrol sniffing? It is more than a health issue. It is an issue this nation must take up and rectify.

The second is Iraq. We are going to hear much more in the coming months about the terrible, horrific siege of Fallujah. It is not over. The dreadful things that have occurred in that city in the last couple of weeks will become public knowledge and we will become more ashamed of the use of arms and terror and the destruction there. Monetary power has been turned into fire power instead of conducting human affairs through debate, accepting difference and leaving people to the determination of their own future.

The third is the Tasmanian forest issue. It got on the national agenda during the election and is now a challenge for the federal government. There will be an outcome which is better than that in 1998 or in 2001, and we wait to see it. This issue will not rest until the great forests of Tasmania are safe from the chainsaws. Global warming and global poverty are issues before Prime Minister Howard, and his challenge in leading the wealthiest country on the face of the planet in per capita resources is to move towards not only ameliorating but fixing these issues. That is your challenge, Prime Minister, in the coming three years.