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Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Page: 9989

Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (18:54): I'll just make a couple of points. Senator Bernardi is right in this regard—there are principles here. The government's point reflects the fact that until more recently, with the exception of Senator Harradine and some other notable exceptions, the majority of senators in this chamber were from larger political parties, and pairing arrangements have reflected that. We are in a situation where we have to reflect on how we deal with a pairing arrangement where there's a party that will replace its senator, but there is no-one in the parliament yet to indicate the position of that party. That's the position. And the matter of principle that—

Senator Cormann: It's not a vacancy; it's a countback.

Senator WONG: May I, please, Mathias? I'm in my tracksuit. Can you let me talk. That is the question: how does the Senate reflect its will, notwithstanding a vacancy, notwithstanding an absence in the count that we undertake? For example, the opposition has lost amendments during this debate because of Senator Nash's pair. Senator Nash, who was ineligible—and there is a countback—was ineligible ab initio; in fact, for many years. We've reflected her pair in the vote, as we should.

Senator Jacinta Collins: It might not go to the same party.

Senator WONG: Well, actually, Senator Collins makes a good point. The point here, though, is when we have a single senator who is a member of a party—so she's not elected as an Independent; there is a party—how does the Senate appropriately reflect the will of the Senate, bearing in mind that the best available evidence is that that position will be filled by a member of the same party? We should have turned our minds to that before Senator Lambie left. Our view was, and I think there was some discussions with others, that the best way to try to deal with it was for Senator Lambie to indicate the position of her party on various matters. Frankly, some of the disdainful remarks from the Manager of Government Business—

Senator Jacinta Collins: 'Disingenuous' it's called.

Senator WONG: Some may say 'disingenuous', but I'm feeling charitable for the moment. Some suggest, 'It's just a personal view,' and that she can email a vote. That isn't what happened in this chamber. She had been elected, regardless of the views we may have whether the Jacqui Lambie Network is the same sort of political party that we might be part of, and she indicated the position of her party on specified bills. The opposition has not sought to give effect to that until today. On previous occasions, there was the superannuation legislation, which has not come to a vote, and marriage equality, where, really, the conscience vote character of that debate meant the party arrangements for pairing were not observed.

We do think there's a matter of principle here—and it may become more relevant in the future. To the crossbench: what the government is saying to you is they want a pair for the man who sat in the President's seat, knowing that he was at risk of having British citizenship, that a cabinet minister had to be referred and kept quiet about it. Despite some suggesting that the morality of those circumstances ought to mean we deny a pair, we did not do so. We think the conventions which enable this Senate to reflect the will of the chamber, notwithstanding vacancies, ought to be observed. I really encourage the government not to go down this path. We will not be in a position where we can continue to provide the entirety of the same courtesies which have been provided to date for the reasons I have outlined.

I make this point again: if you look at the list of specified matters—and it's not an enormous list; seven including marriage, so six—Senator Lambie specified where her position would be; Senator Hinch's party would indicate the vote in respect of the drug-testing bill; the government would indicate where the vote would be cast in respect of first home saver; and NXT in respect of veterans' affairs. This is not a Labor Party plot; it's actually about making sure that, for the people in Tasmania who voted for that party, the democratic process reflects that vote in this chamber. It is precisely the same principle as is applied to Senators Parry, Nash and others.