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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1361


Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (19:36): I think it is fair to say this is a debate that has brought out some pretty high passions in this chamber and some very, very strong views that are held by different people. I know people have said things they may later regret. I note that Senator Rhiannon earlier today made the observation that there are two Senator Stephen Conroys: there is a decent, reasonable, likeable Senator Conroy and there is an angry one. I think we in this chamber all know which one of those claims was defamatory and which one of those claims none of us believe to be true.

On a serious note, the real issue here needs to be the debate around the rushed process. Let us be honest and let us be fairly frank here: there are going to be different views in this chamber and there are going to be passionately held different views on what is the best way of reforming Senate voting structures. There are people, like myself, who have spent a lot of time thinking about this and who have strong views on this. I note that people like Senator Rhiannon and others also have very strong views on this. I will even acknowledge that they come from a very genuine place.

Part of my issue with this is that the rushed process that is now being implemented means that we do not have the opportunity to have the public debate that will allow the difference in these views to be explored. I believe that there are better ways of reforming the Senate. I believe in setting a threshold. The journalist Ross Gittins outlined some ideas quite eloquently this morning in an opinion piece about setting minimum thresholds and about party registration being something else that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has looked at. I think they are good points and they should be part of this debate. I do not believe that having a half-day sham inquiry is the best process for allowing us to air what are some very different views and for allowing the best policy outcome.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to see that an agreement appears to have been reached between the government and the Greens political party on this issue. That clearly seems to be the case. I am not sure I can understand why that would necessarily relate to the urgency of the bill being passed in this way and the implementation being as it is. If this is a good piece of legislation and if this is the right thing to do by the nation—as those who favour it will argue—then surely they would be open to some scrutiny and surely they would be open to public debate. I note that Senator Cormann said earlier today that there wasn't an intention by the government to rush this bill and there wasn't an intention by the government to gag or put it on for a vote this week—and so the Senate would have some time to look at it. If that is the case, then I do not understand the urgency of having the committee report in the next two days. It does not allow a proper, detailed and longer implementation process.

We all know that once you are a senator in this place and you have had a chance to interact with different departments people from departments tend to talk to you. They tend to tell you bits and piece. You may call them whistleblowers—you may call them what you will—but they give you some information. It is a bit interesting that it appears, from what I have been told, that this was legislation was not drafted by PM&C but was drafted out of the Department of Finance. We will have a committee process that will give us an opportunity to work out whether that is true or not. If it has been drafted by the Department of Finance, and the sources and the people who have spoken to me have spoken correctly, then that, perhaps, explains why there are already eight amendments that need to be passed through the House because the bill was so poorly written and because it was so rushed. It was not done the way it should have been done or done through the proper processes.

In an attempt to fix what is a legitimate concern—that we have a better, more democratic and more representative Senate—that without proper scrutiny we are going to allow the changes that are being made and the rules that we are setting to simply be given a political fix to what is a legitimate concern. The legitimate concern is this: we want to have a Senate that is representative. We want to have a Senate that is fair. We want a Senate voting system that is fair. I do not believe that these changes achieve this. I hear Senator Simms sitting there and having a laugh. Senator Simms, I am sure it may be all a joke for some senators and it may be a bit of a laugh—

Senator Whish-Wilson: Maintain the rage. Come on. Show some outrage.

Senator DASTYARI: I am not an angry senator. I just want to make sure that Senator Simms has an opportunity. By the way, I think Senator Simms has made an incredible contribution in the period that he has been in the Senate. I have chosen to 'like' him on Facebook. I have 'liked' his speeches. I thought the speech he made about the Safe Schools Coalition was outstanding and I believe I may even have shared it with the people who follow me. It would be a real loss and a shame, Senator Simms, if at the end of a double-dissolution election either yourself or Senator Hanson-Young were no longer part of this chamber. I hope that is not the case. I do not think you are the best senator from South Australia, I think we have some fantastic senators from South Australia, but I think you make a worthwhile contribution and you are a good person to boot.

Process matters. Transparency matters. Having a public debate matters. Having an opportunity to explore ideas about how we best run this Senate and how best people are elected to this Senate is a worthwhile process. I worry that we have a process which has largely been dominated by House MPs who frankly have no appreciation of the culture of this place and have no appreciation of how the Senate works. I believe that a Senate process where the Senate conducted an investigation for itself would have been a better process. That was not the will of the Senate and, of course, I am going to accept the will of the Senate. I believe we need a longer process to allow some of these issues to be explored and a process that is longer than a four-hour hearing on a Tuesday morning on another sitting day. I believe there are better processes and better ways of doing this. Let us not pussyfoot around this, let us not kid ourselves, there is a government at the moment who has a social agenda as abhorrent to people like myself, and to many of the Greens as well, I might add, as the Abbott government

Yes, they have a more softly spoken Prime Minister. Yes, they have improved their rhetoric on a whole range of issues. But, fundamentally, the policy agenda being driven by the Turnbull government is no different than that that was being driven by the Abbott government. If you want to justify that, all you really have to do is look at the comments made by former Prime Minister Abbott in his Quadrant piece. I have read the commentary around his Quadrant piece; I am not going to purport to have read the piece itself. I note that the Leader of the Government in the Senate has also not read his piece yet. To paraphrase the former Prime Minister, he said, 'There is no stronger indication of the validity of our economic agenda than the fact that none of it has been repudiated by this government.'

We saw it in question time today, when the Minister for Finance, in answer to a supplementary question, confirmed that it is existing policy that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation be abolished. Let us not purport anything otherwise here. The government have that as their trigger. They are saying that is their policy. It is in the budget papers. At this stage, a double dissolution election appears to have three parts to it: the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the registered organisations act and the attempt to bring back the ABCC. When the government choose to use all six of their questions in question time today to ask themselves dorothy dixers regarding the ABCC, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to see that they are clearly lining that up as a mechanism for a double dissolution election.

I am not scared of a double dissolution election; in fact, I would welcome it. I think the sooner we go to the polls, the better. But let us be clear about what happens if the government wins. If the government wins a double dissolution election, it is a bad outcome for those of us who believe in progressive causes. It is a bad outcome when the Clean Energy Finance Corporation—

Senator Cormann: Sam, do you think you're going to lose?

Senator DASTYARI: No—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Edwards ): Order! Senator Dastyari, I counsel you to ignore the interjections and continue.

Senator DASTYARI: But he is talking to me.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Ignore the interjections and address your comments through the chair.

Senator DASTYARI: The finance minister did not listen to me, because my point was very clearly that people like me will fight tooth and nail. I was highlighting what the outcome of a loss of a double dissolution election would be. That is the message I am trying to deliver to the Australian people through the Senate.

Senator Simms interjecting

Senator DASTYARI: Thank you, Senator Simms; I will take that interjection. The ABCC, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation being wiped and the registered organisations act are at this stage what it appears we will be going to a double dissolution election on.

Because of what these rule changes to the voting system would mean for the make-up of the Senate, on the current numbers, a double dissolution election is not good for those of us from the progressive side of politics. The changes that are being proposed are highly concerning for people like me, who believe that, if the government had had the numbers to pass their 2014 budget, it would have been terrible for the Australian public. They were not able to because of the make-up of the current Senate. Labor senators, working with Greens senators and a mix of crossbench senators, were able to block some of the atrocious and terrible measures. My worry and my fear are that the government's ideology and agenda have not changed and, should they have the numbers to achieve an objective like that, they would implement it.

There are those on the progressive side of politics who have argued and continue to argue, 'Frankly, all we effectively did was save the government from itself, from its worst behaviour, and the progressive side of politics should step away and let them pass these horrible laws, and then people will see how terrible they are.' I do not support that view. I have never supported that view. I believe that the people of Australia have elected progressive politicians for a reason, and that is to stand up and fight and stay true to causes. While governments may have a mandate of their own, those of us who were elected on the other side of the chamber are from political parties with mandates and agendas which we have a responsibility to stand up for and defend, and we certainly have a responsibility to stand up against matters that are not on our agenda.

I really worry about what all of this is going to mean and what a double dissolution election is going to mean for this chamber if these laws, as intended, give an unfair advantage to some of the more conservative elements of politics in eliminating what is a fairly disparate non-conservative Liberal-National vote on the right of politics. I also believe that the Senate is a better place when a wider range of views are expressed in this chamber, and I say that as a very proud Labor senator. I believe the debate in this nation has been enhanced by the likes of Senator Muir, Senator Leyonhjelm, Senator Day, Senator Wang, Senator Lambie, Senator Lazarus, Senator Xenophon and Senator Madigan, all of whom bring different experiences to this chamber. There are those who argue, 'If they are so great, people will vote for them under any system.' The reality is that, under the model that is being proposed, they would not get the start they got; they would not have the opportunity to be known and to present themselves. People are allowed to disagree with that; people are allowed to argue and to express a different view. They are entitled to do that and they will do that, and so they should.

I feel that a longer and better committee process would allow us to have a better and more transparent debate which would lead to better policy outcomes. I am very confident that the view I hold is correct. Other people have different views and, of course, they will express those views, but I feel that the opportunity to express the various views is limited—when the whole thing is dragged into nothing other than four-hour inquiry to be held tomorrow morning. The irony again is that, if the attempt here is to stop deal making and backroom deals, there has clearly been a deal made between the government and the Greens political party to achieve this policy outcome. I am not quite sure how that would justify or achieve the set objectives. A more open, transparent and consultative process will result—and I believe can result—in these laws being approved.

It is concerning when political parties choose to exercise their power in a winner-takes-all electoral system—

Senator Simms interjecting

Senator DASTYARI: I will take that interjection: electoral reform is best achieved when everybody is in the tent together and when it is not about exclusion but inclusion. This is a fix where the government has decided it wanted to remove a pesky crossbench and retrofit it with a model to achieve that outcome. They have been very clever about it; they have clouded their language with the language of transparency and democracy. I believe that the Greens came to this from a genuine place. I do not believe that the motives here were necessarily all wrong or evil. I do not subscribe to that. What about the ramifications of this if it were used in a double dissolution election—as is openly being proposed by government MPs and ministers, and this is undeniable now; it is not speculation coming from our side of politics. Talk to any journalist in the gallery and they will tell you that government MPs and government ministers are walking the halls and openly saying, 'We have what we need to be able to go to a double dissolution on 2 July or 9 July or 16 July.' These dates are not coming from our side of politics, they are coming from government sources. The government believes it will result in a situation where there will be nine Green senators—

Senator Cormann: That's just not true. You're making this up.

Senator DASTYARI: Senator Cormann, it is your MPs saying this. Have you read those comments? By your assertion, Senator Cormann, have senior journalists in the pieces they have been writing in the past week been making it up when they quote government sources? These are not second-rate press gallery journalists; these are the most senior journalists in the country. I am not the biggest fan of every journalist in this place—none of us is—but many of them are the most respected journalists in the country and they are all saying the same thing. They are all saying and writing that they are getting this from government sources. Senator Cormann may dispute that, but I believe—and I have no reason not to believe—that they are telling the truth and they are getting information straight from government sources. I worry that a government that is prepared to gloat in the way it is—it is bragging about what it is doing—intends to use this for a double dissolution election. It will be bad for politics if the rules have been set in such a way as to give them the outcome they want. (Time expired)