Senate Voting Reforms Passed By Both Houses

The House of Representatives has given its approval to the final version of the bill to reform the Senate’s voting system.

After an all-night debate that finally concluded at 2.30pm on Friday afternoon, the Senate voted to approve the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016. The bill abolishes group voting tickets and introduces optional preferential voting above and below the line.

The House of Representatives remained on stand-by to confirm amendments passed by the Senate. It met at 3.07pm.


  • Watch the House proceedings (26m)

Hansard transcript of House of Representatives proceedings.

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth—Prime Minister) (15:07): I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

This is a great day for democracy. For too long the Senate voting system has been disturbed by backroom deals, by preference whisperers and by the manipulation of microparties, such that we have seen the will of the people frustrated. There is nothing more important than that the men and women who sit in this chamber and in the Senate reflect, as far as possible, the wish of the Australian people. That has not been the case with the Senate. We have known this for many years. The practice of group voting tickets, of backroom deals, of elaborate creation of microparties has resulted in people being elected to the Senate with a tiny fraction of the primary vote. It has undermined the democratic reputation and credibility of the Senate, which is half of this great parliament.

The changes that are contained in this bill and reflected in these amendments represent what was not so long ago the bipartisan position—the position of every party in this parliament. It was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. Labor, Liberal, the Greens, all agreed that it should be Australian voters who decide where their preferences go. It should be Australian voters that choose who should be elected to the Senate, not backroom deals. There was no stronger advocate for this than the member for Brand, Gary Gray.

Then, only weeks ago, for base political reasons, the Labor Party did a complete backflip. They abandoned their position. They left the member for Brand, Gary Gray, as a solitary beacon of integrity in a sea of Labor opportunism.

These amendments are for democracy. I want to thank the senators who supported them. I want to thank the senators who stuck to their principles.

Mr Danby interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The member for Melbourne Ports is warned!

Mr TURNBULL: I want to thank those senators in the Greens party and the Independent, Senator Xenophon, and all of my colleagues in the coalition who stayed up for hours and hours ensuring that this was going to be carried, led by the Special Minister of State, Senator Mathias Cormann, whose leadership on this issue showed, as usual, his uncanny combination of intellect, determination and energy. Senator Cormann has served the nation and his state well. We should never forget that section 7 of the Constitution says that senators will be directly elected by the people of each state. This ensures that they will indeed be directly elected by the people of each state, because the people voting will determine precisely where their preferences go.

This is a great day for democracy. I thank the senators for their perseverance in supporting these changes and I thank my colleagues here in the House of Representatives who stayed back and stayed up late so that we could deal with these amendments as they are returned to the House. I commend the amendments to the House.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The question is that the amendments be agreed to. Just before I call the Manager of Opposition Business, I remind members on both sides that standing order 94(a) does not just apply during question time. The Manager of Opposition Business.

Mr BURKE (Watson—Manager of Opposition Business) (15:11): Just imagine if this was your big policy achievement as Prime Minister—not tax reform, not action on climate change, not any of the things he ever said he believed in. But the one time you get to come in here and say, ‘Here’s what I can say I’ve achieved,’ it is rorting the Senate vote. That is the achievement. The finance minister does not come in here when they take credit on budget night for doubling the deficit, but the finance minister will come in here after an all-night session and hear the praise of the Prime Minister for the big policy reform of the Turnbull government. They can all go home to their electorates after today knowing, with pride, they have rorted the Senate ballot. They can go back knowing, with pride, that three million votes now get put in the bin, that the three million Australians who choose to vote for the minor parties now will not have their votes counted to any candidate at all who gets represented in the parliament. That is the achievement. That is what they get to take credit for.

Let us also remember why it is that the House has to sit today at all. Why is it that the House has to sit today at all? It is because the Treasurer moved an intelligent amendment when this bill was first introduced—the House suddenly goes silent at the thought of it—because he referred the bill to the parliamentary inquiry. Why did he refer the bill to the parliamentary inquiry? Because it was different from what the committee had previously considered. No matter what claim the Prime Minister makes, it went to a new inquiry. But then the member for Eden-Monaro moved that we had to vote before that committee reported, even though the committee reported before the Senate even began the vote. So, on the complete mess of administration from this government, the only reason the public are paying for us to all be here today is that those opposite decided to have the vote before the committee reported. It is the only reason we are here, the only reason anyone is here.

So the motion in front of us is not actually whether or not the parliament agrees to the bill. The motion in front of us is simply whether or not we agree to the amendments that have been moved in the Senate—amendments which could have gone through the House if the government had not had the abject stupidity of having us vote before it went to the Senate, if they had simply followed the recommendation of the Treasurer and waited for the committee to report. The public has paid for every member of parliament to be here today purely because of the incompetence of this government.

A government member interjecting—

Mr BURKE: He says, ‘Wasn’t it because the Senate spoke for too long?’ We had already adjourned before they had had the debate. We could have dealt with these amendments prior to the Senate considering it in the first place. We have seen nothing but incompetence from the government in dealing with this.

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr BURKE: I would like, as a final moment, and a non-partisan moment, so you can all just be quiet for a second—

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr BURKE: If you could all be quiet for a second as this is important.

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr BURKE: Scott, seriously. On a straight non-partisan basis, today is the last time that the Parliamentary Liaison Officer, Annette Cronin, will be joining us in the chamber. She has served the parliament well during the entire term of this parliament. I think it is appropriate—and you can see the contrast when we speak about you, Annette!—that the parliament acknowledges the contribution that has been made. Not a lot of legislation has gone through the parliament, but for everything that has gone through the engagement that has happened is a full credit to the work of Annette Cronin. I wish you well.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

The SPEAKER: Annette, we wish you all the best. The question is that the amendments be agreed to.

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (15:15): The Greens will be supporting the amendments. Indeed, in the 40 hours of debate that we have had, what I understand is the seventh longest debate in recent history, my colleagues in the Senate have set out the reasons why and I am not going to recount here why we support them. I think it is important to go back to basics and realise what this is all about. The effect of this is that when people vote in the Senate they will be able to vote 1 and then allocate their own preferences above the line. This is something that for many years voters in Melbourne, certainly, have said to me that they have wanted to be able to do, because they have been worried about where they have ended up. I remind the chamber that the first bill that was introduced in this place to allow voters to number above the line was introduced on two separate occasions by former Greens leader Bob Brown. It is something that has been pushed for a period of time by the Greens and it is now finally coming to fruition. Without recounting the reasons that my colleagues have put on the record in the past 40 hours, the Green support the amendments.

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (15:17): I am pleased to speak to these amendments, which are a product of the new coalition: Liberals, Nationals and Greens. We had the Prime Minister come in here and speak to a procedural motion. In it he said something very significant. He said that he was indebted to the Greens. We know he is indeed indebted on the basis of this legislation.

But that is not all, because his Victorian party president, Michael Kroger, has given up details of where he also is indebted, because a part of this arrangement is this bloke and the Greens securing preferences from the Liberal Party in seats that they believe that they can win, and in return the Greens issuing open tickets in marginal seats that the Liberal Party either hopes to hold onto your hopes to win. That is the game here that is really on. So we have a circumstance whereby, due to absolute opportunism, we have opposites being attracted. That is what is going on here. This legislation, of course, is designed to have optional preferential voting in the Senate. During the Senate debate last night, Minister Cormann confirmed that it would be formal to advocate a just vote 1 proposition. This means that the up to 25 per cent of Australian voters who cast their votes not for Labor, not for the Liberals, not for the nationals and not for the Greens will have their votes effectively put in the bin. Up to 25 per cent of votes will be exhausted as result of that.

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE: It says everything about this government that their final act is not to reform anything that helps average Australians; it is reform to help themselves. It is not about the jobs of average Australians; it is about the jobs of coalition senators and Green senators. That is their big priority. We have had six months of disappointment. He rose to the prime ministership and promised Australians a new deal. We were going to have a forward-looking government that would take the initiative on climate change, on marriage equality and on public transport—on all of these issues—but what we have had is a government and a Prime Minister without an agenda. Of course, he reminded us when he spoke about the need to have the Australian people decide positions and not have backroom deals—oh, the irony. How do you think you got to sit there, buster?

The SPEAKER: The member for Grayndler will refer to members by their correct title.

Mr ALBANESE: The Australian people did not vote for you; they voted for the member for Warringah as the Prime Minister of Australia. They did not vote for you. You got there in a backroom deal to placate the conservatives in your own party and to roll over on all those issues that you held dear over an entire career. Remember the grand statements about climate change—you would rather not lead your party than lead a party that was not serious about action on climate change—when you derided the Direct Action campaign? It is all there, Malcolm. That is the problem.

The SPEAKER: The member for Grayndler will refer to members by their correct title.

Mr ALBANESE: You have the hide to speak about backroom deals. The now Prime Minister, the unelected Prime Minister, the appointed Prime Minister through a backroom deal—that is exactly why he is here—has the hide to come in here over this. Now we have a backroom deal between the skivvy-wearing, no-socks senator over there and the Liberal Party. They are prepared to do deals just to oppose the Labor Party. The fact is that this is part of a rotten deal between you and the Greens.

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (15:22): Very briefly in response, what the member for Grayndler said about supposed deals about preferences is just rubbish and the record must be corrected. That is just absolute rubbish. I say that, if you are worried about your own seat, do what I had to do at the last election and win it without Liberal preferences.

The SPEAKER: The question is that the amendments be agreed to.

The House divided. The result of the division was AYEs 81, NOs 31.

Mr PYNE (Sturt—Leader of the House, Minister for Industry and Innovation and Science) (15:31): I move:

That the House do now adjourn.

In moving the adjournment, can I thank Annette Cronin for her service as the Parliamentary Liaison Officer for the last 2½ years.

And I particularly thank my 81 colleagues who remained in the chamber today for a historic day. Thirty-one Labor members—they really were opposed to this! You really put your back into it! So thank you very much, colleagues.

Question agreed to.

House adjourned at 15:32 adjourned until 12 noon on Tuesday, 10 May 2016.

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