Monday, 21 July 2014

Transcript of Interview - Sky PVO News Hour - 16 July 2014

Transcript of interview with Peter van OnselenSky News – PVO News Hour

Wednesday 16 July 20147:30pm


SUBJECTS: Senate voting reform; Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Well as the stalemate continues in the Senate over the carbon tax repeal, the Government’s legislative agenda has stopped in its tracks, perhaps. Following the debacle over lost votes in the 2013 Western Australian Senate contest, the Government moved to investigate how to reform the electoral system to make the polling process more simple and streamlined. Part of the ambit of an independent parliamentary committee into electoral reform was also the future of micro-parties and preference deals. But with crossbenchers proving vital to the Government’s agenda in the Senate, anything that might anger those micro-parties has perhaps been put on the backburner. Liberal MP Tony Smith is the Chair of that particular committee and he joins me now live from Parliament House. Thanks very much for your company. Have you and your committee’s recommendations been pushed to the side, courtesy of the desire of the Government and Tony Abbott to try and get deals done with the micro-parties, that wouldn’t very much like the kind of electoral reform your committee has suggested?

TONY SMITH: Well look Peter, a couple of points. There was never an expectation that the recommendations that we made on the Friday before the budget would be converted to legislation for this session. I mean, obviously the priority is the appropriation bills and the Budget bills.

VAN ONSELEN: So you’re hopeful it’s still going to be happening? It’s just a matter of when, not if?

SMITH: Look, there’s no time sensitivity now, but we have to change the senate voting system. I mean the unanimous report, that wasn’t just Labor and Liberal, it was also the Greens and Senator Xenophon himself had strong views on this matter. It’s important to restore the will to the voter. I mean, we have a situation where that ballot paper in NSW where you’re sitting had 110 boxes on it. It’s the maximum printable width, they’re handing out magnifying sheets, and it’s an absolute farce. It has to end. And we have to make the last election, the last election where gaming of the system…

VAN ONSELEN: Are you confident the Executive arm of the Government you’re part of will share your view on that—that it’s a debacle and that it has to be fixed?

SMITH: Well I am. Of course I am. The Special Minister of State, who’s responsible for legislation in this area, highlighted this for us to enquire into. That’s why we inquired into it, and there’s a very thorough report that’s had views, as I said, from all of the parties. And the fact that it was a unanimous report means that it’s durable. Our job was to produce a very thorough report and do so as early as possible

VAN ONSELEN: And you did exactly that Mr Smith. But by the same token, are you alive to the possibility that the attempts by both major parties, frankly, to court some of these micro-parties might put the ideas that you’ve got, held once upon a time at least by the exec arm of the Government, might be put on the backburner?

SMITH: Look, I am very confident that not only does the report have the strong support in the Liberal party room, the Labor party room, the Greens, but also importantly Peter – most importantly – amongst the Australian public.

VAN ONSELEN: I bet. I agree with that.

SMITH: What we are seeking to do is restore the will of the voter, so that you control your own preference, you preference to the extent you wish, and you get clarity back into the system. I fully appreciate that those who have succeeded in gaming the system, by the vulnerabilities that are there, won’t want change. That’s been obvious from day one, but from the voters perspective they desperately want change. Of course I’m confident that at the appropriate time…

VAN ONSELEN: Let’s name a few names Tony Smith. Who’s gamed the system? Ricky Muir?

SMITH: Well the micro-parties who have distorted the will of the voters by their manner of preferencing…

VAN ONSELEN: So which ones? Ricky Muir?

SMITH: Well I mean, I’m very happy to say that in the case of some of the micro-parties, and I’ve said in the report… I mean I have nothing against Ricky Muir personally, but his election did not …

VAN ONSELEN: Other than the fact he gamed the system!

SMITH: No. I mean, he popped out in a lottery. It could have been anyone. He didn’t know it was going to be him, but the fact he got 0.51% of the primary vote…

VAN ONSELEN: Sorry to interrupt. But what about his new advisor, Glenn Druery? I mean, you must have something against him personally, he’s the one organising the gaming of the system.

SMITH: I’ve got nothing against any of them personally. The system allowed this to occur. There’s nothing at all illegal about it. It’s just that voters naturally were bewildered when someone with 0.51% of the vote could get catapulted into the Australian Senate. And the only way that occurred was because voters are forced, if the vote above the line, to give their preference decision to party tickets. That’s the only way it occurred. So, from my perspective there’s nothing personal, but reform obviously is a must. And the time sensitivity isn’t now, it needs to happen obviously in good time before the next election. And enough time for the legislation and education to occur.

VAN ONSELEN: Well I think you’re right. I think the public are well and truly with you on this one. So let’s hope that the executive arm of the Opposition and Government keep their nerve. One final question before I let you go. Your colleague in the Senate, James McGrath did his maiden speech tonight. You wouldn’t have heard it, I’m guessing. You would have been busy in the other chamber perhaps…

SMITH: No. I missed it that’s right

VAN ONSELEN: Well one thing he did do – take my word for it – he argued for an increase in the GST.

SMITH: Well senators and members in their first speeches should be allowed to espouse their views on a whole range of matters. He’s obviously entitled to his view. And I heard from colleagues that he raised a number of very big policy issues. I’m looking forward to reading it but- he’s a friend of mine, I can say this – it sounds to me like a Senator’s maiden speech as distinct from a member of the House of Reps maiden speech.

VAN ONSELEN: I won’t ask you what you mean by that. I know exactly what you meant by it… Tony Smith: appreciate your time. Thanks very much.

SMITH: Thanks a lot.


Media inquiries: Andrew Hallam (0404 043 764)

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