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Monday, 21 May 2018
Page: 3890

Mr GILES (Scullin) (12:15): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I present the committee's report incorporating a dissenting report entitled Excluded: the impact of section 44 on Australian democracy and ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e)

Mr GILES: by leave—I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this report, which I'm proud to have contributed towards and which is, in my view, deserving of serious consideration in this place and in the wider Australian community. The question of what restrictions should stand between electors and their choice of representatives is of fundamental importance to our democracy. Where there's been uncertainty over the functioning of such restrictions, this becomes even more significant. It's clear to me that the controversies which have led to this reference to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters have eroded faith in Australia's democratic institutions, and we have a shared responsibility to seek to restore this faith and to rebuild trust. I hope that this report and its recommendations can assist in meeting that profound challenge.

I will start my remarks by making clear what the report does not say. Contrary to the views of some commentators, the committee has not recommended that dual citizens be permitted to stand for election. We have made clear our view that this is a question for the Australian community to consider, not the present membership of the joint standing committee. Similarly, we have not expressed a substantive view on the extent to which the prohibition attaching to holding an office of profit under the Crown should be amended. What we do say though is that our constitution should, in time, be changed, and this report sets out why.

Let me be clear: I strongly share the view of the Leader of the Opposition that the priorities for referenda should be achieving proper recognition of our First Peoples in Australia's Constitution and making arrangements for us to become a republic, but this does not mean and cannot meant that we can ignore the reality of a situation in which more than half of us cannot seek election to this parliament, and none of us who have been so elected should hide behind the nonsense proposition that this must be put to one side because history suggests referenda tend to fail. It's this thinking that feeds the frustration which drives a wider alienation from politics. Real problems should never be put in the too-hard basket; we're in this place to solve them by making arguments, by persuading and by leading.

This report is a multipartisan attempt at resolving an important and difficult issue. It seeks to define the problem in the first instance. I think this is critical. The case studies in the report demonstrate the extent of the impact of section 44 as presently interpreted by the High Court. It's evident that the exclusions from full participation in public life are such that they are far from being a problem of the so-called 'political class'. In fact, the provisions operate, in effect, to separate Australians into two classes, when it comes to seeking election to this place, without warrant or contemporary justification. This is inconsistent with our multicultural society and also the present functioning of the Australian economy. This is the real issue at stake: that millions of Australians have a lesser stake in our national politics and that some may not be placed as a matter of practical reality to remedy this. Others may be dissuaded from participation. I think this is a major problem. I believe we should be striving towards a more representative parliament and a more diverse politics. We should send a message to all Australians that full participation in public life is open to them. I would like to do so now. I would like to ask Australians to think about the problem that we all must, at some stage, engage with and to consider the implications of this report for the type of country and the type of democracy we would like to live in.

In approaching future constitutional change, there are a variety of options arising from our recommendations. Choosing the right one is all of our business—that is all Australians, not simply members and senators. This report starts that conversation and sets out some markers and some principles. For me, I think we should be slow to stand between electors and their judgement as to who is best placed to represent them. I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister have made clear their view that this report and its recommendations need to be carefully considered. I look forward to working with them and with all of my fellow parliamentarians in this regard. While the changes foreshadowed are properly the concern of every Australian, this does not let us off the hook when it comes to leadership, to playing our role in ensuring our democracy is fit for purpose. Perhaps the Prime Minister might think about the role he could and should be playing in this regard.

I would like to thank the secretariat for the extraordinary work they contributed to this report and for the professional manager in which they did it. It is truly a privilege to work with them as it is to work with all my colleagues on this committee—my Labor colleagues, the member for Oxley, Senator Brown and Senator Ketter; the chair, Senator Reynolds, who worked tirelessly and effectively to bring together people, ideas and a shared purpose. I want to place on the regard my deep appreciation for her work and also that of senators Rhiannon and Leyonhjelm, whose divergent ideological views did not prevent major contributions and close collaboration on a body of work which matters equally to all of us who wish to argue about our competing visions for Australia rather than the framework in which those arguments play out.

The member for Tangney has issued a dissenting report. I acknowledge his consistent adherence to his principles and his constructive engagement with the issues before the committee. I do believe having his perspective as part of the discussion will enhance the debate, which is really the point—for Australians to consider the sort of democracy they want by reference to this critical question of who should be excluded from nominating for election to our national parliament. I look forward to carrying on this conversation.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Goodenough ): Does the member for Scullin wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?

Mr GILES: I move:

That the House take note of the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: In accordance with standing order 39(d), the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.