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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1365

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (19:57): I was not planning to speak tonight, but I must admit I have been moved to my feet by the last two speakers and genuinely moved by the deep concern and the deep care that the Labor Party has for giving up votes in the next election to minor parties and to people from other political parties. In fact, the genuineness of their comments would bring a tear to a glass eye. I think the people they are trying to convince with this argument are their own supporters, because we know that they are very deeply divided on this issue.

The MP who set this up, Mr Gray, has said that the comments he has seen on electoral reform are dumb and are spreading misinformation. My predecessor Bob Brown said to me when he left the Senate, 'Get to know that John Faulkner guy. Get to know him. He's a great guy and he's been around a long time; he has kind of been pushed away from the pack. He is sitting on his own over there; he's been shunned by the Labor Party, but he has a lot of wisdom and a lot of youth. He's still quite young. You will learn a lot from him.' That is what Bob Brown said to me. I read with interest Faulkner's comments a couple of years ago on the JSCEM recommendations on Senate reform. He said that it was great that we were going to have some reform—he fully supported the kind of reform we are now planning to debate here in the Senate.

Let's not beat around the bush on this: the Labor Party is deeply divided on this issue. We know there has been a power struggle within the Labor Party over this and we know some of the prominent frontbench senators have won that battle—Mr Gray was very clear about that and he said it was very sad. He said that it was a sad day for democracy and a sad day for the Labor Party. We have seen other Labor Party stalwarts coming out to say they support voting reform. Let's put this on the table as well: why is Labor so divided?

This issue has been debated for years. It has been through numerous inquiries. There is this confected outrage that suddenly this issue has been given a half-day Senate inquiry, but the discussion has been going on for years. Senator Faulkner's contribution, I read this morning, was from 2012. Senator Brown introduced this bill in 2004—12 years ago we had this debate. We have had it on numerous occasions, and these things have been thoroughly examined. Let us be totally honest and put the facts on the table—yes we have different views on this but I do not think anyone in here can put their hand on their heart and say that they are opposing Senate reform because they are the good guys, because they want other people to get voted into this chamber. That is arrant nonsense. We oppose Senate reform for our own benefits, our own self-interest, and we support Senate reform for the same reason but we do not as a party. We have campaigned on this consistently for years because we think it is good for democracy.

I am very proud to have been here with Senator Rhiannon, who introduced these reforms into the upper house of the New South Wales parliament. These changes have been successful in New South Wales. This is something that she will leave as her legacy in this parliament, and she has campaigned for years on getting Senate voting reform where, quite simply, the voters get to choose their preferences. It is that simple. Six above the line gives everybody plenty of opportunity to vote for people like Senator Ricky Muir, plenty of opportunity to vote for minor parties, but it stops the gaming of the system that we have seen in recent years.

I have no doubt that we need to have more debate in this place, and I am sure we are going to as this legislation is tabled. I look forward to that, and so do all my colleagues. This is something that our party has campaigned on for over a decade and it is something that we want to see happen.