Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

BILLS - Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 - Second Reading

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (12:46): Continuing on from my contribution last night on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, I was talking about the concern about the process and the division now in this place. Around the issues of the process, I was talking about the time constraint that has been placed on the decisions that this parliament will make. We have had the ongoing and very valuable work of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which had met over a period of months during 2014 and 2015. In fact, their last report was delivered in April 2015. However, there has been no further consideration in this place or in any committee process around changes to the electoral process for the Senate. I am not sure why that is, but I have been very clear that there did not seem to be any sense of urgency. As I said last evening, I had checked the Hansard and there was no commentary made.

However, two weeks ago in the media we found out that this was going to be an exceptionally important and urgent vote in this place to change the voting system for the Senate. Linked to that, in exactly the same media coverage, was that the government was looking to move quickly to a double dissolution because they could not get their legislation passed in the Senate. My major concern is the link between these two issues: the urgency around this electoral amendment legislation, which we have only had before us for a fortnight, and the push around the double dissolution. It is impossible not to see a link between these two issues, and that is the point I have been trying to make in a number of my contributions in this debate.

The election of senators is an important issue. It was raised during the joint standing committee process and it has certainly been raised in the media. In terms of an ongoing consideration in this place, it has not happened. Whilst it is absolutely critical that it should happen in this place, more importantly, it should also happen in the wider community. Indeed, the roundtable discussion that was held two weeks ago on this, which was purported to be a joint standing committee inquiry into this bill, the Electoral Commission stated the importance of an education campaign in the community about any changes.

The Electoral Commission made the same statement in their April 2015 recommendations, that because of the magnitude of the change and because there is already an acknowledgement that voting for the Senate is a complex issue-we know that every time we go to the polls-educating the community about the changes must be an important element in the whole process. If we have this truncation of the process, if we have a rushed process in this place to accept new legislation and compound that by having a double dissolution, there will be no time at all to have effective engagement with the wider community to explain the process and to bring them on board with the way we vote for the Senate.

I believe that this is a very serious attack on our democratic process. All the way through, from the time we actually set up this Federation, the expectation was that citizens would be involved in the electoral process. That is what is critically important for us to understand, and there will not be time for this educative process if this bill goes through and we have on top of that the double-dissolution process.

In questions and answers in the conversation around the joint standing committee report two weeks ago, the Australian Electoral Commission-as they do, as professional public servants who are well-skilled in the running of elections-said that they would be able to commit to changing their systems and holding an effective election if these changes go through in a three-month period. They would need a minimum of a three-month period to ensure that the programs are tested and that there could be an effective electoral process. That was for the basic processes of making sure the computer systems work, making sure the counting system works and making sure that they have the appropriate documentation. That did not include any consideration of the range of electoral education that must be considered when we are looking at such a significant change in the way our electoral rules operate.

I am on record as saying there needs to be much more community education around our electoral processes-in a standard way, let alone in terms of what would happen when we are having such a major change. Any of us who have survived the process of a double-dissolution vote-I am not talking about whether we survive the actual election; I am talking about when we actually go to the polls to vote-understand the complexity of having to vote for 12 senators and to understand exactly how that operates. As I said earlier, my major concern around what has occurred is that I think we have made an attack on effective process around something that should receive much more consideration and engagement with a whole range of people who would need to be involved. Also, the outcome is one where I think people who have a purely political motive-and we understand that is a reality-have constructed a process to get the outcome whilst not understanding the elements of process that should be put forward.

I wish to foreshadow a second reading amendment which has been circulated in the chamber. That is for debate at a future time, but I just wanted to foreshadow that I will be moving an amendment, which is on sheet 7892. In terms of where we will go, I feel absolutely certain there will be more opportunities as we go on to have further discussion around a whole range of issues. But, moving right aside from the interactions we have been having in this chamber about who is moving what and why, I think we should take the time to take a very close look at whether this change will have impacts into the future which have not been considered up until now. If there had been the appropriate time given for full consideration to this bill, there would have been a greater chance for more involvement by people in the community, people who have an understanding of the system. Rather than having this debate in the media-which seems to be the chosen method of this government, to have exchange of information and communication through the media-we could have had more effective time for feedback on the kinds of information and data that we as senators should have before casting a vote on such a significant issue.