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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1376

Senator MUIR (Victoria) (20:51): I rise to make just a short statement in relation to this. I will have a lot more to say when the bill itself is actually being debated. I will be introducing some amendments and hopefully speaking in length in relation to them.

I am concerned that the most significant changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 since 1984 are being rushed though the parliament for party political purposes. Adjunct Professor Michelle Grattan AO appears to agree and is on record with the following comment:

While the government boasts about engaging the community on the tax issue, it has avoided public debate as it seeks to muster the numbers for voting changes that would have sweeping implications for the Senate’s future composition. … This would be an extraordinarily fast passage for such an important measure. But then speed is always possible if interests coincide.

It is concerning that the government does not appear to be concerned with seeking broad support for these changes, given that they will likely be around for decades to come. At a minimum, the consideration of this bill should be delayed until the week of 15 March, for the following reasons: it will allow the library to complete their research and return advice to Senators; and, it will give the non-government members the drafting resources they need to move the necessary amendments.

Due to the compressed timeline and the controversial nature of the bill the resources of the drafting office and Parliamentary Library are overstretched. I am concerned that my crossbench colleagues will not be able to move any necessary amendments due to research and drafting constraints. The report date of the committee should be extended to allow all options and submissions to be considered properly. I believe the committee referral is nothing more than a token process, when submissions close less than 24 hours before the first and only public hearing, with a report handed down shortly thereafter. And this hearing is only a half day hearing. It is pathetic for such a large change to our electoral system. This compressed timeline cannot possibly allow for anything more than token scrutiny of the bill.

I will finish by asking this question: if this reform is such a great idea, then why is it being rushed through the parliament and why is it being hidden from proper scrutiny? The parliament should have more time to scrutinise the changes and not have them rushed through. I am certain there are many members of the Greens who agree in the importance of transparency and accountability in government decision-making at all levels, and they should be bitterly disappointed in their elected representatives.

I heard Senator Whish-Wilson stand up earlier on and say that this bill has been scrutinised for the last year, or even longer—he mentioned 2012. That is a lie—an outright lie! I believe the politically engaged Greens supporters should be able to see straight through that. When the government is putting forward something to do with the environment or to do with economics that the Greens want to knock down, they will scream 'process' very loudly. Senator Whish-Wilson said that this has been properly debated. It has not been. It has been spoken about in the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which is a closed group up until tomorrow, where minor parties and independents were not able to get in and have a say. This bill does not completely reflect the recommendations that came out of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, so it is wrong to say that this is being scrutinised properly, because it has not been, in the form in which it is being presented. The government and the Greens are lying to the voters of Australia.

On that logic, the government has been after penalty rates for many years. Since they have been speaking about it, if they brought a bill forward should we just support it? I don't think so. But that is what could end up happening if the Greens cement themselves in and lock every other minor party out so that proper scrutiny of this parliament is not able to proceed.