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Robert's Speech on Senate Voting Reform

Speeches in Parliament
Robert Simms 16 Mar 2016

Senator SIMMS

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, which is of critical importance to our democracy. In talking on this matter, I want to return to the Greens party's four pillars. We are a political party that is founded on four pillars: peace and nonviolence, ecological sustainability, social justice and grassroots participatory democracy. It is these four pillars around which all of our policies are framed. Of course, it is the pillar of democracy that this important reform touches on. It is one of our core principles as a political party, and it is something that we have been talking about for a very long time. I am very proud of the fact that we are on the cusp of seeing a policy that our party has championed for a decade become law. I want to acknowledge the work of my colleagues to bring that about and in particular Senator Lee Rhiannon, who has been a strong advocate on this reform for many years. This is an exciting opportunity to deliver this change.

People often talk about our democracy as being something that is less than perfect, and I think anybody watching the antics here in the Senate chamber over the last 24 hours would be in no doubt about that. It is less than perfect, but sometimes opportunities do come along to reform it, to improve our democracy, to make it better. This is one of those opportunities, and we have to seize it with both hands. I genuinely believe that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve our Senate voting system, and I am very excited that the Greens are making the most of that opportunity and are about to make our policy law. That is an exciting development.

Before entering this place, I used to work in a university and was doing some casual teaching work in the politics department. During the course of that work, I had the great opportunity to talk to lots of young people about politics. I have to say that, contrary to what is often said about young people in this country, they are engaged politically and interested in political issues. But it was very clear to me that there is a lack of understanding about our voting system and how it works, and there is a lot of confusion about the way that Senate preferences in particular work.

The reality is that most voters do not know where their preferences are going. If they vote for a political party above the line, they have no idea where those preferences are going once they have flowed through that particular political party. That is not good for our democracy. It produces unfair outcomes. It produces crazy, perverse outcomes like the preferences of the Sex Party going to, say, the One Nation political party over the Greens, something that I think most of their voters would find anathema, or things like the votes of Labor Party voters going to Family First ahead of the Greens, as happened in the state of Victoria when the Labor Party parachuted Steve Fielding into this place. That is something that a lot of people would not understand when they cast their vote for the Labor Party or they cast their vote for the Sex Party. They do not necessarily know where their preferences are going.

Under these reforms, for the first time, Australian voters will have the opportunity to determine where their vote goes by voting above or below the line. They can vote 1 to 6 above the line and direct the preferences to their party of choice in the order of their preference, or they can vote for individual senators below the line from 1 to 12, in effect making their own how-to-vote card. I think that is a really good outcome for our democracy and I am excited about that.

I have been pretty appalled by the opposition that we have seen to this reform. It has been craven and blatantly self-interested. We have seen these ridiculous charges that the Greens are somehow in coalition with the Liberal Party. That really is absolutely laughable when one considers the record of the Labor Party here in this place when it comes to voting with the Liberals. Let us consider some of the things we have seen happen in this parliament. We have seen within my own portfolio of higher education the Labor and Liberal parties voting together to dud students by scrapping the start-up scholarships, in effect, and adding them to a student's HECS loan, thereby saddling students with more and more debt. It was the Labor Party that voted for that in the dead of night on the last night of sitting in this place. It was the Greens who came out and stood up against it. We were the only ones to do so—Labor shepherded it through.

We have also seen of course the terrible deal between Labor and the Liberals to rush through citizenship laws, draconian laws that damage the rights of Australian citizens. And we have seen the appalling policy position over many years, where Labor has conspired with the Liberals to lock innocent children behind razor wire on island prisons. Innocent people come to this country seeking our help and support, and asylum seekers come to our country seeking help and support but instead of getting the hand of compassion and assistance, what they get is a cruel policy that is a consensus between the Labor and Liberal parties.

Opposition senators interjecting—


They can keep interjecting all they like but they know that is the reality of where they sit on this issue. If the Labor Party want to have a debate about the Greens record versus the Labor Party when it comes to progressive politics and fighting for progressive values, bring it on. I think we have the credentials in that debate and I think we will win that debate.

I also have seen some rather bizarre statements made in social media over the last few days. I will share one of the posts on Facebook with you. It was by the Australian Labor Party and it said, 'We will never help the Liberals into power. We will never do anything to help the Liberals into power.' I had a bit of a laugh when I saw that because the first thing that came to mind was, 'We will never help the Liberals into power.' I thought, 'How did we find ourselves here?' How did we find ourselves with an Abbott government? How did we find ourselves in a situation where a man who was incredibly unpopular, the most unpopular opposition leader in the nation's history, found himself in the Lodge? The answer is pretty simple. The Australian Labor Party practically packed his bags and drove him there themselves. They packed is bags, they drove him there and they moved him into the Lodge because their complete ineptitude, infighting and division we saw while Labor was in power over those six years was the biggest free kick the conservative side of politics has ever had in this country. It was the Labor Party that gave Tony Abbott the free ride he needed to get into the Lodge and it was the Labor Party that brought that inept and incompetent man into the prime ministership. It was the Labor Party that brought about that outcome. Had they had their act together in government, you cannot tell me that we would have seen the coalition elected in 2013. Any credible commentator in this country will tell you that. So if you want to talk about helping the Liberals into power, it was the Labor Party that were rally—

Senator Carol Brown

That is the most ridiculous argument I have ever heard.

Senator SIMMS

I am being heckled and told these arguments are ridiculous. That actually has some semblance of fact. Certainly the same cannot be said for some of the absurd and ludicrous arguments that have been put here in this chamber over the last few weeks. The point I am making is that the Labor Party have been enabling the Liberals for a long time and no amount of slinging mud at the Australian Greens will change that reality.

Let us return to talking about the benefits of this reform, and I think there are some significant benefits here. I can see that the Labor Party do not like it because it smashes the business model of the faceless men that they rely on to hold their seats here in this place. The factional warlords of the Labor Party might be the losers of this reform but the Australian people will certainly be the winners. The Australian people will win from this reform because, for the first time, they will get to determine where their preferences go above the line and below the line. That is a really important proposition and I am very excited about that being made a reality.

This is something that has been talked about for some time. It has been debated since Bob Brown first put a bill to this place 10 years ago. But it has also been debated significantly during this term of parliament. We have finally reached the point where we can get this over the line. What we have seen, unfortunately, is the Labor Party, who up until recently supported this reform, bucking their previous position and choosing short-term political opportunism over doing the right thing.

We have also seen in the attacks of the Labor Party on this reform quite a contradictory scare campaign. We heard earlier this suggestion that this is about putting Greens bums on seats. I have also heard references in South Australian media that as a result of this reform, perhaps I will lose my seat in the Senate or perhaps Senator Hanson-Young will lose her seat. Apparently it is about bums on seats but it is also going to cost us seats. I want to make it very clear this has never been about self-interest for the Greens. That is not what this is about. I can hear again people in the Labor Party laughing and heckling because of course self-interest is their political modus operandi. But that is not the way that we work in the Greens. We have been championing this issue for some time, it is one of our key principles as a party and we are finally in the position to make our policy law. We need to seize that opportunity with both hands and I am excited that we are going to be doing that. It is not about self-interest; it is about doing the right thing by the Australian people, it is about doing the right thing by our democracy, and I think that is a great outcome. And so I look forward to this reform becoming law. I think it will be an exciting milestone in democratic reform in this country; let's make it happen.




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