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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1227

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (10:02): I seek leave to make short statement about the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

The PRESIDENT: Leave is granted for three minutes.

Senator CONROY: I would like to indicate that Labor will support the holding of this meeting, although I want to draw the attention of senators to the way this inquiry is being conducted. When senators turned up for the first time after the message from the House that we were allowed to participate as members, we found a fait accompli—so the invitation for us to participate was a complete farce. We arrived and were told, 'Here is the witness list, here is the time and here is the opportunity for people to have their say.' When I suggested that perhaps there might be other Australians interested in putting forward a submission or appearing at incredibly short notice, I was successful in putting forward one name but was then told that that was it and there were to be no more changes to the agenda as listed. Then I arrived in my office this morning to find an email saying that the government had decided to change a witness!

This is the way the government is treating the Senate—with the complete complicity and connivance of the Greens. We have a farcical process where Australians who might have an interest in this issue are being denied an opportunity to put forward their point of view and are being denied an opportunity to attend and participate as witnesses. Then we are going to have it rammed through with a report next week.

It was suggested on the ABC this morning—a rumour—that the government is no longer intending to try to force this legislation through this chamber this week. Golly, what a concession! But, if that is the case, I say to the government—and particularly to the Greens, who claim to care about transparency and democracy—that there is no need to keep the current reporting date for the inquiry. There is no need for the haste. There is an opportunity to hold a hearing next week so that more than just the government's approved witnesses can turn up, so that more than one side of this argument can be heard.

Minor parties could be given an opportunity. They do not have the machinery of the Greens, the opposition or the government to put a submission in. Given there were only two days to lodge a submission, I am not surprised they have not been able to get one in, and I am not surprised they have declined to be witnesses, as is claimed in a note I received this morning. They have not had a chance to prepare for this. I say to those in this chamber—especially if, as the government are now privately indicating, this will not go forward this week—that there is an opportunity to revisit JSCEM having a longer inquiry.