Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

BILLS - Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 - In Committee

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (18:19): In the arguments we heard in that previous discussion around taking this bill to a committee or not, claims were made by members of the government about the extensive consultation-the number of hours and the number of meetings-that had gone on around this legislation. It is always difficult because I know that when you get excited and want to put forward your particular point of view, it sometimes is tempting to over exaggerate the statements you are making. I am not a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters but, in preparation for this, I managed to go through the website and have a look at the process that was undertaken from December 2013, when Senator Ronaldson actually referred the conduct of the 2013 election to the joint standing committee, as happens after every election as a standard process.

Despite the papers being waved around about how many hours and how many meetings took place to consider the issue of Senate voting, as Senator Birmingham said, it was highly inflated. In fact the agenda items that the joint standing committee looked at were a range of issues that were part of the 2013 election. They cover things such as electronic voting. In fact a whole segment of the hearings that Senator Birmingham felt concentrated exclusively on the issue of Senate voting, did not. There was a very serious series of meetings and inquiry discussions and processes that looked particularly at the issue of electronic voting, and one of the interim reports concentrated on that.

There was a very interesting report around the issue of electronic voting. It raised a number of issues that were put forward by submissions and it looked at processes into the future. The recommendations from that element were that, at this stage, it was not appropriate to proceed. That is fine. That is the process that the committee takes. I have not counted the hours. Maybe someone would have the time to go through and count how many hours of the joint standing committee inquiry was taken on each particular issue, how many of the submissions covered what issue and what the focus of the Australian Electoral Commission was during the debate.

I have not done that, but I have looked at the reports and I have seen that, whilst the issues around Senate voting processes were a significant issue in the overall discussion of the joint standing committee, it was not the only focus. To come into this debate, as part of making a strong argument-and in fact, Senator Collins, one of the expressions that my mother used to use was that someone 'overegged the custard'. I think the custard was flowing strongly in some of the debate that we have heard and, I would expect, will continue to hear. I think it is important that at least we lay down some of the processes around making sure that we keep a reasonable approach. I want to put on record the work that I have done in looking at what the joint standing committee did. People who are listening to this debate will not have the time or possibly the interest to go through and check out the veracity of the statements that are being made in the argument.

What I strongly believe around this issue-which, as we know, is the biggest single change to the way that the Senate voting process will operate in many years; it is 30 years, I believe, since the last major change occurred-is that there is a need for strong consideration, element by element, about what the most effective way to take this forward is. I certainly have some questions-through you, Mr Chairman-to the minister about getting some information about the education process which was strongly recommended by the Australian Electoral Commission and also the joint standing committee. Should there be a change in the way that this would operate, there would need to be a strong education process put in place to work with the community, to make them aware of the changes and how they would operate. That is a standard process, I think, if we are making changes, but particularly if we are making changes to an already complex system.

I think many people have already raised this in the discussion that we have had so far-and I do not know whether it has been 20 hours, Minister; I think there has been a significant amount of discussion since the bill came into this place. What has not happened in the debate in this place is the opportunity to hear from other people about how they feel.

The first time that this particular bill was placed under any scrutiny as a piece of legislation was the four-hour process that we had two weeks ago. Senator Collins has already described the process. I read it. I did not have the opportunity to attend, because I was at another committee. I am sorry-if Senator Macdonald is listening-but that does not indicate that I had a lack of interest in the issues of the electoral reform. He seemed to infer that anyone who did not turn up for the actual hearing was not interested in the process. It was just that there were other responsibilities to be had, but I did read the Hansard of that hearing.

I saw that because of the time constraint-and clearly even the chair of that hearing said there were time constraints-there were very strong restrictions on how many questions people could ask and also on the sequential nature of the way that people could be engaged in the process. It is understandable, if you are having a four-hour hearing. If you had a clear, focused, committee process around the piece of legislation itself, there would be a wider opportunity for senators to ask questions, to follow up questions and to be involved in debate. That was not offered on this piece of legislation. That is in fact one of the faults that I see in the process.

We can talk here about how long the issues of Senate electoral reform have been on the agenda. We can talk about for how many hours the joint standing committee actually looked at this particular issue. But the piece of legislation that came out of the joint standing committee process-no-one debates that; the piece of legislation did come out of the joint standing committee process-has not been subject to the standard scrutiny that this chamber expects for new legislation being brought forward.

What we have had is-up till now, and I think it will continue-debate in the chamber. That is people with various points of view standing up and giving that evidence into the debate. That has happened; no-one can challenge that. In fact, there have been more hours in us giving our opinions of the bill than in finding out what other people thought about it and giving questions to experts in the process. No-one can challenge that. If we had had a 20- or 25-hour process of looking at the bill in a committee, that would then have been giving the chance.

I think there were about 110 or 112 submissions to the four-hour process. Most of those submissions are from individuals. They are quite short submissions-considering they had three days to put their submissions in-from people who felt strongly enough to say, 'This is how I feel about the process.' Many of them were distressed about the process in which we were engaged, because they felt it was being rushed. In fact, one-I will not read the person's name into Hansard, but you will find it in one of the submissions to the four-hour inquiry, chat or discussion-said that this does not give value to the way the Senate should operate, that this very rushed process is not a reflection of how we should operate.

My point is that you cannot say that this bill has been subject to extensive scrutiny by this chamber. You cannot say this bill has been the subject of extensive scrutiny by the joint standing committee. And you certainly cannot say that the series of reports that are on the web page that reflect what did occur as a result of the joint standing committee review of the 2013 election-those documents-were fully focused on Senate electoral reform. That is just not true, and to purport that that is factual actually weakens the argument. If we are going to talk about what appropriate consultation is, let us talk about how the process has operated up until now.

It would seem to me to be a simple challenge for this chamber. How are we going to be able to get the answers to the questions that some of us have about how it will work, how the process will operate and who has been consulted? How are we going to get answers to all these things-answers which Senator Collins said we would hope we would get in a formal committee process that was looking at the legislation, allowing then for more amendments if required? Even as a result of that short discussion, there came to be amendments brought forward into this place. Those amendments were not there before we had even that level of scrutiny.

I believe that there should have been a further opportunity to have more extensive scrutiny and more evidence provided by those people who are genuinely interested in the process of electoral law in our country. There should have been a further opportunity for people to scrutinise the options in front of us. There should have been a further opportunity for people to scrutinise what had occurred between when the original evidence was taken at a number of inquiries of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and to be able to listen to various opinions that were raised after those interim reports had been brought forward. As all of us would acknowledge, the joint standing committee were doing their work scrupulously through that period of 2014 and 2015. As Senator Birmingham said earlier, they were working really hard and presented us with quite detailed reports about what they had done. But was any of that brought back into this chamber? No. Between 2015 and two weeks ago, there was no discussion in this place around electoral reform. That is a serious fault.

Senator Rhiannon interjecting-

Senator MOORE: I take that contribution from Senator Rhiannon. When was the report from the joint standing committee debated in this place between 2015 and now? There was no debate. You can check the Hansard on that process, and I am happy to have that discussion. It is good to have some elements of our Senate and the House of Representatives involved in these discussions. That is why we have joint standing committees operating. But the next step of that kind of consideration is to come back into this place and have a discussion in this place about what happens next. That did not occur between April 2015 and two weeks ago.

If these things need to be considered fully and if we are going to recommend that there are such significant changes to our process, we need to have those discussions in this chamber-and we did not have that until two weeks ago. I believe that that is a serious fault. As I said earlier in this debate, that raises questions about why it was not urgent in April 2015 and it is suddenly urgent in March 2016. That is where I think we seriously need to look at our process. What will happen in this debate will happen. It will go on and there will be lots of people making contributions and arising points and putting arguments as to why change should or should not happen, and that is how the process operates.

When the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is looking at issues around the election of 2016-we will have an election in 2016 and we will have the extraordinarily hardworking Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters working on these issues with the people from the AEC who professionally look at the process-we should continue to have the discussion back in this place. That needs to happen so that these quite viable issues around why processes should change and, for example, electronic voting-that wealth of information-can come back into the Senate so that we are able to consider it.

Now, during the night of 17 March 2016-St Patrick's Day-we will be trying, in that period of time, to conduct a formal inquiry around the issues only of electoral voting in the Senate, rather than looking at all the issues of the election of 2013.