MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - Election of Senators


Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (16:07): I want to make a few points in relation to why Senate voting reform is important and why the tenor of this MPI is wrong. I have the greatest respect for Senator Day and for many of my crossbench colleagues and indeed for some in the opposition, but I want to make a few points.

What is fundamentally wrong with the system at the moment is not who was elected at the last election, nor fundamentally even how many primary votes they got—though I will comment on that. What is fundamentally wrong with our system at the moment is that the people do not deliberately choose who represents them. The people do not choose where their preferences go, because the vast, vast bulk of Australians do not know where their preferences go.

 

Senator Day: They are delegated.

Senator SESELJA: Well, they do not know where their preferences go, and this is the fundamental problem. What the Labor Party and some on the crossbench are saying to us today is that the Australian people cannot be trusted to choose where their preferences go. I take a different view. I think the Australian people should have the choice to vote for whomever they choose, and it should not be a system that makes it virtually impossible for them to choose that, and it certainly should not be a system that leads to a virtual lottery as to who is actually elected.

I will give an example. A lot has been made of Senator Muir and the low primary vote. Well, I do not care about the low primary vote. I think Senator Muir is a decent bloke. But I say that the voting system that got Senator Muir elected is a lot like a lottery. Senator Muir happens to be a decent fellow, who I think does his best to represent his state, but it could just as easily have been, when you look at the list of votes at that election, the Australian Sex Party; it could have been The WikiLeaks Party, the Shooters and Fishers Party, the Animal Justice Party or the Help End Marijuana Prohibition party, all of whom got more primary votes. Going down the list, it could have been Katter's Australia's Party, the Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party, the Australian Independents, the Senator On-Line, the No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics, Bullet Train For Australia or Drug Law Reform Australia, all of whom were getting half a per cent or less. If they were to get half a per cent and get preferences from people deliberately, in a preferential system there would be nothing fundamentally wrong with that. But what happens at the moment in our system is that people who voted for the Australian Stable Population Party do not know whether their preferences are going to elect the Sex Party or the Family First Party or the Pirate Party. They should have that choice. It should not be a lottery. It should not be the luck of the draw on the ballot paper and where you end up when the preferences start being distributed.

There was stuff put out, I think, before the last election saying: 'If you vote for the WikiLeaks party there is a good chance that you can end up voting for the Nationals,' and 'Vote for the Palmer United Party and there is a good chance that your vote can end up electing the Greens,' and that is true. Many people who voted for Palmer would not have known that he was preferencing the Greens. Many people who voted for Bob Katter would not have known that he was preferencing the Greens and vice versa. People who were voting for the Greens would not have known that their votes were helping to elect someone who, on the face of it, would have been significantly ideologically different. What I say to the Senate and to the Australian people is that I want to see a system where Australian people choose who represents them in a genuine way, and at the moment that is not what is happening.

The Labor Party are particularly hypocritical and conflicted on this. We heard from Senator Dastyari, arguing against this and saying that it will disenfranchise people. This is a backroom dealer who is arguing for backroom deals. Let us be clear about that. These are backroom deals where no voter would know—even the most diligent voter who spends hours trying to get across it probably would not really know—where their preferences might end up. And, when we are talking about 20, 30, 50 or 100 preferences, they have absolutely no chance. Under the current system, if you are given the opportunity to vote below the line and you have to fill out 100, the fear, of course, is that there is a good chance that you will get it wrong—you will not order them all properly—and then your vote will not count. So most people—I think it is about 97 per cent—choose to vote above the line, and Senator Day says, 'That means you are delegating your preferences.' Well, yes: you are handing over control because you do not have much choice—you are not really given much choice—and then the deals get done, and you do not know where your preference goes.

Senator Day: Then change below the line!

Senator SESELJA: Well, Senator Day, this is the issue here. We had a parliamentary committee that looked at this in detail.

Senator Day: Not the minor parties.

Senator SESELJA: It looked at it in detail—and this goes again to the Labor Party. The Labor Party are coming in here and saying—

Senator Dastyari: This is not the joint parliamentary report.

Senator SESELJA: I think the Labor Party actually made a submission to that which is very, very similar to the legislation that is coming before the parliament. It is very, very similar. You know, optional preferential voting above the line is taking place in New South Wales and the sky has not fallen in. We have still seen people have their choices. What the Labor Party and some of the crossbenchers are saying is one of two things: either they think the Australian people cannot be trusted to choose their own preferences, or the Australian people simply are not smart enough and we should leave it to the political players to choose their preferences for them. I say: let us leave it to the wisdom of the Australian people.

People say this is about favouring one party or another. That is absolute rubbish because if it was about favouring one party then why was the Labor Party, and why were people like Gary Gray, so in favour of it, if it was about favouring one side of politics over another? In three years, or six years, or in future elections, who knows what the dynamics will be in relation to the party structure in this country? Who knows what parties of the left will arise? Who knows what parties of the rights will arise? From time to time it will benefit one party; it will diminish another. That is democracy. But fundamentally when you are looking at these kinds of reforms you should always err on the side of giving voters the choice rather than the backroom players. Fundamentally that is what Labor are going to be arguing against today and no doubt when the legislation comes to the parliament. They are going to be saying to the Australian people, 'No, you can't be trusted to choose where your second, third, fourth, 10th or 15th preference goes.'

I think people should be able to choose. I do not think they should have to preference every party. I think if there are 100 parties you should not have to. There are a lot of parties I have a fundamental opposition to, and I do not want to give them my preferences. I do not want my preferences to go anywhere near them. I could name some parties here, but I am not going to do that today. The reality is that Australians should be given that choice. If there is a party that you have an absolute objection to, they should not be getting any of your preferences.

That is the other great thing about a Senate voting reform which allows people not to preference certain parties whose views they might find obnoxious and objectionable. Under our current system, eventually they get some of those preferences at some point. You will be preferencing them. The best you can do is put them last, but you have to put another obnoxious one second last and another one third last. What I find particularly appealing about this reform is that you would not have to give any of those parties that you have a fundamental objection to a preference. You can preference just the one party. You can preference 10 parties, and it will be the parties that match your philosophy and that you believe are doing a good job.

The Labor Party and some of the crossbenchers are going to say to us that the lottery that we have at the moment where Australians do not know where their preferences go is better. They are going to say that the current system is better and that the Australian people cannot be trusted to do the right thing. We have heard that it will lead to all sorts of informal voting. The reality with the way that this has been structured is that it will not lead to informal voting because, if people vote the same way they always have, it will still count.

But Australians can also follow the instructions that they will be given by the Electoral Commission which will encourage them to number from one to six. In that case, at least the top six choices of that individual will be preferenced. Surely that is fair. The Labor Party and some of the crossbenchers seem to have no confidence in the Australian people's judgement. I have confidence that sometimes they will favour the coalition and sometimes they will reject our policies when they believe we have gotten it wrong. That is democracy, and this reform would actually improve our democracy.