Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Page: 776

Senator STORER (South Australia) (21:35): The strength of our democratic institutions is underpinned by trust and integrity, but those values have been compromised and systemically undermined. The major parties have grown complacent and entitled. Those values have been used as political footballs by those putting their short-term interests above those they represent. With scandal after scandal involving corruption, misuse of public funds, political donations, unregulated lobbyists and attacks on whistleblowers, it's no wonder people are fed up. It's no wonder that public confidence in our politics is at an all-time low.

We've lost confidence because our system allows powerful lobby groups to donate millions to political parties, without public disclosure of that funding until months and, previously, years after an election. We've lost confidence because our system allows lobbyists who are employed by companies or peak bodies to go completely unregulated, as they fall outside our lobbying register. Interests of well-resourced big business and unions should not be prioritised over the public interest. We've lost confidence because our private sector leaders are held to a higher standard of behaviour—through directors' duties—than our publicly elected officials, who have no equivalent explicit duties imposed upon them. We've lost confidence because our system does not enforce the requirement that ministers wait at least 18 months after leaving cabinet before becoming a lobbyist in their former ministerial portfolio. Voters are disillusioned, angry and seeking change. We can and must win back their trust.

As the 45th Parliament draws to a close, it is timely to reflect on the contribution of Independents to the political process. In 2016, more than one in four Australians voted for someone other than the major parties. In this election, over 20 Independents have already announced that they will contest the election. Major parties have overlooked many issues important to Australians, not because they don't have merit—not because they wouldn't improve the lives of Australians—but simply because there is no political imperative. Even as the major parties are reluctant to restore the faith of voters in our democracy, the Independents have been stepping up as a viable alternative, making far-reaching improvements to policymaking.

Our parliament is improved by the presence of Independents who can vote based on evidence, based on the best interests of their communities and the country, not on outdated, inflexible ideology. Independents in both houses don't just play a key role as a check and balance to government policy—though that is critical. They are also ideally placed to voice and deliver on issues that are important to the public and their local communities but that have been ignored by the major parties. Just look at the successful examples of stalwart Independents like Cathy McGowan, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie.

If you agree that politics in this country is fundamentally broken, that the most important decisions of government are being made by people who don't represent your views, then do yourself a favour and, in the lead-up to the election, take some time to see what your local Independent candidate is all about. Weigh them up and give them an honest assessment. If you find that you agree with their policies, that your views align with theirs, that they speak for you, then you should go one step further—you should vote for them. I truly believe that, if more of us voted for Independents, we would fundamentally improve the way politics is done in this country. It's not a party; it's a principle. Vote Independent.

I have been fortunate enough to be a member of the Senate for close to 500 days. I pledged that I would review every issue on its merits and on the basis of the evidence. I promised that I would not trade my vote for side benefit. I have been as good as my word, and I hope to have contributed to the standard of debate and the quality of legislation.

I am proud of the fact, for example, that I opposed the company tax package proposed by the government, reducing the impact on the budget by $36 billion over the next decade. It makes the task of restoring the budget balance that much easier and means more money is available for infrastructure—roads, hospitals and schools—which, the best evidence suggests, not only improves the quality of life of our community but also produces jobs and growth more quickly than tax cuts.

Equally, I'm proud of opposing stages 2 and 3 of the government's income tax cuts. They will do little for the less well-off and too much for the well-off, who should not be a priority when people on low and middle incomes are struggling to pay their electricity and food bills. It does appear that the government has got the message, with steps taken in tonight's budget to do more for the less well-off.

I am proud to have argued for an increase of $75 a week to Newstart, and I am disappointed that neither the government nor the ALP is prepared to commit to such action. It is a disgrace that the level of Newstart has been unchanged in real terms for a quarter of a century, leaving many jobless, living in poverty and unable to effectively seek work.

I am proud of co-sponsoring legislation to give people on Nauru and PNG access to the medical care qualified professionals believe they need, rather than leaving the decision in the hands of politicians and public servants. The legislation does not undermine the sovereignty of our borders, and to date there is no sign the people-smuggling trade has resumed.

I am proud to have instigated the inquiry into electric vehicles, which I chaired. Australia has been asleep at the wheel, left behind comparable countries in the take-up of EVs. My recommendations establish a pathway to enable Australia to catch up, and I am pleased that the ALP has drawn on my work to develop credible policy.

There are many other issues where I and other Independents have made real improvements to the quality of politics and raised issues which otherwise would not have had an airing—for example, the plight of the Murray-Darling; the threat of an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight; the cruelty of the live sheep export trade; the benefits of energy efficiency for low-income people who rent; pressing the case for legislation on modern slavery; enhancing the integrity, independence and transparency of the ABC board process; recognition of the Uluru Statement from the Heart; the Closing the Gap disappointments; and the frontier wars in our history. Many of these issues are of great concern to Australian voters, but the fact remains that the level of scrutiny and quality of solutions proposed to those issues would never have happened without the significant support of Independents. That highlights the deficit of integrity in our political system. The major parties have been taking Australian voters for granted.

This week, I am introducing in the Senate a suite of reforms for greater transparency, accountability and integrity in our political system through a parliamentary transparency charter. By pursuing such reform, we are holding those who wish to engage in behaviour that undermines the very fabric of our democracy to account. Our major parties should realise that ensuring confidence in democracy by pursuing reform in these areas is more important than what may be discovered within their ranks, and they should support my reforms. But, yet again, it looks like the major parties have put these reforms in the too-hard basket, and it is Independents and the other crossbenchers who are taking the lead. I'm pleased to report that 17 crossbenchers from both the House and the Senate have signed onto my charter just today. I invite other members of parliament to follow their lead and commit to improving our parliament's transparency and integrity.

I stand for a parliament that is for unity and hope and that truly and fairly represents all Australians, not just party insiders or inflexible ideologues. It's time to clean up our parliament and restore public trust and confidence in our democratic institutions. In the lead-up to this election, we should be demanding a higher standard from our elected officials. If you're fed up with the way politics is done in this country, the answer is simple: vote Independent.