Back to All News

Senate Reform – Nick's Speech

Speeches in Parliament
Nick McKim 23 Sep 2016

I am very proud to rise to support the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, legislation that puts the power over preferences back where it belongs in a democracy—that is, in the hands of the voters. It takes it out of the hands of the backroom wheelers and dealers now so beloved of the Labor Party and returns it to where it should be in our great democracy of Australia: in the hands of the voters. It is actually impossible to argue against this reform in a democracy whilst still maintaining any integrity whatsoever. That has been proven by the Labor Party over the last few weeks, by Labor senators who have lost any integrity they may have had, during their desperate attempts to smear the Greens on this legislation and to argue against a democratic reform that they themselves supported not a year and a half ago.

We have heard a fair bit of rubbish from the Labor Party over the last few weeks, and I am not going to dignify all of that rubbish with a response. But, in essence, their argument, and that of many unions in Australia, is that, if this reform goes ahead now, the Turnbull Liberals will gain control of the Senate. That is the essence of their argument. I am going to place it firmly on the record now: if that happens—and heaven forbid it will—it will be for one reason and one reason only: because the Labor Party and the union movement, or large parts of it, in this country took their eye off the ball and, in attacking the Greens, who have stood up time after time for working people in this Senate, granted the opening for the Liberals to gain control of this Senate.

So do not come whingeing to us, Senator Polley, if the Liberals win control of the Senate. It will be because you took your eye off the ball. It will be because your Senate colleagues took their eye off the ball. It will be because the ACTU took its eye off the ball and the CFMEU took its eye off the ball. In attacking the Greens, who have stood up time after time after time for working people in this country, who have joined with Labor to vote down, time after time, draconian antiworker and anti-union legislation in this place, you took your eye off the real problem, which is Malcolm Turnbull's Liberals and their coalition partners in the Nationals. If they should win control of this Senate after the next election—and heaven forbid they do—it will be your responsibility and yours alone, for taking your eye off the ball.

As I said, we have heard some rubbish from the Labor Party in this debate. I think we need to place some things very clearly on the record. Firstly, Labor signed up to this in writing in 2010, when the House of Representatives was returned with no party having an absolute majority. In their agreement with the Australian Greens, Labor signed up in writing to reforming the Senate voting system. What happened? They squibbed it. They broke their word, as Labor so often do. If Labor had kept their word, which they signed up to on paper, in writing, we would not even be having this debate today, because Senate voting reform would have got through in the previous term of government, and the democracy would have been enhanced in Australia, by the power over preferences being returned to the hands of the voters. But that did not happen, because Labor broke their word, as they do.

There is something else that needs to be said here and placed very firmly on the record. It is about the voting records of the parties in this place. In this term, the Labor Party has voted with the coalition on nearly 40 per cent of the votes. The Greens have voted with the coalition about six per cent of the time. That is, Labor votes with the coalition by a factor of six times more often than do the Greens. So, if you want to talk about the natural alliances in this place, have a look at the voting records and have a look at your policy positions. Any reasonable person would not take long at all to form the view that the natural coalition in this place are the three old-style parties: Labor, Liberal, National. That is what the voting record shows. That is what policy positions and platforms show. We are very proud, in the Greens, that our policy platform is so different from that of either the Liberals or the Labor Party.

Then we have seen—and I will tell you what; this one does grind my gears—Labor this week come into this place and use marriage equality as a political football.

Shame on them, as my colleague and friend Senator Whish-Wilson says. Honestly, fair dinkum, Labor were asleep at the wheel on this issue for so long, and in fact were a roadblock to marriage equality for many years in this country. If people who may be reading the or listening do not believe me, I am going to tell them a personal story about marriage equality. Back in 2005 I was the first member of any Australian parliament to table marriage equality legislation. It was a cognate package of three bills in the Tasmanian House of Assembly. After discussion with stakeholders, we realised we did not have the numbers to get this bill through the Tasmanian parliament, so we thought, as a fallback, we would seek to refer it off to a parliamentary inquiry. How many non-Green votes do you think I could get in 2005 to refer marriage equality off to a parliamentary inquiry? Answer: zero, nada, the big bagel.

Not one Labor member would even vote to send marriage equality to a parliamentary inquiry in Tasmania only over a decade ago. And then they come into this place today and pretend that they and only they have credibility on marriage equality and are the long-term custodians of the marriage equality campaign. You shameless hypocrites. You are no such thing. You have been a roadblock to this reform for year after year. Do you know what? As we stand here today you still do not all support marriage equality. Unlike the Greens, every MP and every single vote in every single parliament of Australia; that is our track record. We will not be lectured by you mob on marriage equality. I can tell you that.

On the proposal before the House in terms of the exact model, again we have heard Labor effectively lying and distorting history about what has happened here. Let us be very clear. There was a lengthy Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters process that ran for about a year and a half. It held public hearings right across our wide and beautiful country. You know what happened out of that process? What happened was a report that was endorsed by all members, including Labor members. And do you know what? This legislation we are debating in this place today is to all intents and purposes, exactly reflective of that joint standing committee report. It differs only in extremely minor and inconsequential ways, particularly around above-the-line voting, where the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommended that a vote of 1 above the line could be considered a formal vote, and the legislation before us says that 1 to 6 would be the instruction on the ballot paper. Of course that charge, which was negotiated by the Greens is beneficial for minor parties in this place.

We have heard again implications and explicit statements from Labor that this is somehow about doing over minor parties. I have news for the Labor Party, and specifically Senator McAllister who was running this line in the speech that she has just concluded. I have an except from the in the Senate back here in 2004, when the Greens attempted to legislate for Senate voting reform. How many senators did we have in the Senate at that time? The answer is two. Senator Brown from Tasmania and Senator Nettle, who was visiting Parliament House today from New South Wales—two senators. By any reasonable definition, we were a minor party. Did that stop us doing the right thing or seeking to do the right thing in 2004? No, it did not. Here are a couple of quotes from Senator Bob Brown's speech on Thursday, 9 December. Senator Brown said this:

While above-the-line voting gave voters an easier alternative, it also had a cost. It took the decision on preferences from the voter and gave it to the party which the voter selected.

Absolutely spot-on. It is not acceptable in a democracy. In fact, group voting tickets are a corruption of our democracy, and Senator Brown was spot-on when he pointed out that current voting for the Senate in this country takes the decision on preferences out of the hands of the voter and gives it to the party which the voter selected. The other quote from Senator Brown is this:

This amendment to the Electoral Act enhances democracy. It provides a simple and attractive option for voters to keep control of the destiny of their vote and so the make-up of the Senate.

Well, hear, hear, Senator Brown. I spoke to Bob only recently. He is overjoyed that this reform finally looks like it is going to get up, 12 long years after he first legislated to reform the Senate voting.

The fundamentals of this reform are unarguable in a democracy. You cannot argue against them without blowing your credibility out of the water, and that is exactly what the Labor Party has done. In their desperate attempt to smear the Greens, they have taken their eye off the real problem in this country, which is the Liberal-National coalition, who do not give two hoots about the environment; who have a pathetically weak global warming policy; who want to do over the rights long fought for by working Australians through outstanding and decades long campaigns by their representatives in the union movement; who want to slash by tens of billions of dollars, funding for health and education in this country; who squibbed the tax debate; who run the absolute falsehood that we do not have a revenue problem in this country but that we have an expenditure problem; and much more. It would be a horror show for Australia if they took control of the Senate. Heaven forbid it happens; but, if it does, it will be because the Labor Party and the unions took their eye off the ball and they attacked the wrong people. We have the ACTU spending members' money campaigning against the Greens, who have stood up time after time for workers' rights in this place, cheered on by their cheerleaders in the Labor Party—a Labor Party who until recently supported the very reform they are now dying in a ditch to abandon. I have seen some shocking hypocrisy in my time in politics, but this one just about takes the cake.

So we will stay true in the Greens. We will stay true to our values, we will stay true to the democratic principles in this country, and we will stay true to this long-held position that we have had for well over a decade now and that was first reflected by legislation in this place when that legislation was tabled by Senator Bob Brown in 2004, well over a decade ago now. Labor have shown they cannot be trusted on Senate voting reform. They signed up to it in 2010 and then broke their word.

Yes, the Liberals—the government—are being opportunistic here. We get that. But hey—the planets have aligned, and this could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance democracy in Australia and to ensure that in the Senate, as far as is possible, the will of the voters is what determines the make-up of this place. If we turn our back on this once-in-a-generation opportunity, we could see election after election after election gamed by the so-called preference whisperers. Seriously, if you want diversity in the Senate—and, by the way, I am all for diversity in the Senate, but not at the expense of our democracy. But, if people want to put diversity in the Senate above democratic principles, let's just have the last seat in every state a lottery. Any citizen can throw their hat in the ring, and we will just pull it out of the ring on election night, and that person can get elected to the Senate. I do not think anyone would want to see that, because it runs counter to the fundamental principles of a democracy, but that is effectively what is going on. Our Senate is being fixed by those who have developed a business model that relies on gaming a corrupt voting system.

That is the truth of what happens, and that is what we are going to fix here, despite the fact that the Labor Party have once again squibbed on the difficult issues. And why would we be surprised? They have made an absolute art form out of it for well over a decade now, and they wonder why they are facing an existential threat. Well, I can tell them why they are facing an existential threat: because they are becoming less relevant to more and more Australian voters as the years go by. I tell you what: Chifley's light on the hill, if it has not gone out, is on its last little flicker. You are in zombie lock step with the government on every single erosion of civil and human rights that the Labor Party once stood up to defend back in the good old days.

Senator Polley interjecting—

Senator Carol Brown interjecting—


Order, thank you. Thanks, Senator McKim. Please continue.

Senator McKIM

Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I was just reminding the chamber that in the good old days the Labor Party was a staunch defender of human and civil rights in this place, and every time this government has come in and moved to erode fundamental human and civil rights that tens of thousands of Australians fought and died for over the course of the last century—including some members of my family, I might add—you fall in a screaming heap, because that is just what you do, because you would prefer to play the politics rather than do the right thing. That is what you are exposed once again as doing: you are playing the politics rather than doing the right thing. If you wanted to do the right thing, you would not all of a sudden have woken up from your marriage equality slumber this week; you would treat that issue—


That is just offensive. That's offensive.

Senator McKIM

I do not care whether you find it offensive, Senator Brown. It is true. Where were you on it last week? You were nowhere.

Senator Polley

Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. It is under the standing orders that all comments should go through the chair, and I ask you to remind the good senator.


Thank you, Senator Polley. I was just about to do that. Senator McKim, please address your comments through the chair.

Senator Whish-Wilson

I would also like to make a point of order. Senator Brown has been constantly interjecting for the last 10 minutes, and you have not ruled those interjections out of order.


That is a debating point, Senator Whish-Wilson. Thank you.

Senator Whish-Wilson

It is a point of order.


I would like you, Senator McKim, now to continue your remarks.

Senator McKIM

Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. Of course through you, I can say from my long experience in politics that, when the volume goes up from the Labor Party, you know you are hitting a nerve. You know you are hitting a sore point. This is a good reform. It restores the power over preferences back to the hands of voters, where it should be in a democracy, and I will proudly vote for this reform at every chance I get.






Back to All News