Thursday, 31 July 2014

Transcript of Interview - Sky PM Agenda - 30 July 2014

Transcript of interview with David SpeersSky PM Agenda

Wednesday 30 July 20145:30pm


SUBJECTS: Mr Clive Palmer MP; Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters; Senate voting reform

DAVID SPEERS: You’re watching PM Agenda, good to have you with us. The Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Matters looks, after every election, at how the election was run and won and lost, and we’ve already seen some recommendations come out of the Committee in relation to how the Senate election went and the sort of results it produced. Well now it’s looking at the lower house more particularly. It called to give evidence today—in fact, a witness had come forward saying he wanted to give evidence—no less than Clive Palmer. On the day, did he show? No he did not. The Chair of the Committee is with me now—Tony Smith, Liberal MP. Thanks for your time.

TONY SMITH: Thanks David.

SPEERS: Talk me through this. So Clive Palmer actually wanted to give evidence before the Committee. When did he signal that to you?

SMITH: I think he first signalled it through his office verbally back in February or March, and we offered him time in our Sydney hearing and our Adelaide hearing. It was followed up with a formal request in writing from his office towards the end of April requesting to appear. So we were happy to accommodate that. We get lots of submissions. A submission had come in and we were happy to accommodate it. So we arranged the time and arranged for today, and it was confirmed a couple of weeks ago. And just this morning we discovered he wouldn’t be appearing but his chief of staff was available instead.

SPEERS: And did they give a reason for that?

SMITH: No, and that’s not any of our business really, other than something had come up. But I wanted to make it very clear as Committee Chair that the request to appear had come from Mr Palmer himself and that if today was a problem we could be very accommodating—we’ve got another hearing tomorrow and we could even hear from him by teleconference hook-up as we have with a few other Western Australians.

SPEERS: Okay, so you’re still trying to get him before the Committee personally?

SMITH: Well we never sought him to come. I mean he put in a submission but there was nothing that we needed any further explanation on, on his points of view. He asked to appear.

SPEERS: What was your understanding of why he wanted to appear?

SMITH: I presume it was to talk to his submission, which made a number of observations and recommendations about the electoral system and the AEC in particular. But because he’d asked to appear, like any party leader we were happy to accommodate him; that’s why we are all in Canberra. But we adjourned the hearing to make sure that he didn’t want to appear at another time and we were told by his chief of staff when we resumed that he had withdrawn his request to appear and he just wanted his chief of staff to appear. So we proceeded on that basis.

SPEERS: Okay. Now you are currently looking at aspects of the last election, including the AEC and some of those issues. You’ve already, however, reported an interim report, I think, on the Senate and how that Senate election was run.

SMITH: Yes that’s right.

SPEERS: Now I wanted to ask you about that because in that report you and others were quite critical of some aspects of how micro parties had “gamed the system” in your words and were producing a result that was not what the Australian voters had voted for. Is that still your view? Because we’re not hearing a lot from the Government about that.

SMITH: My view hasn’t changed at all. I mean there’s nothing personal in this but we reached a unanimous position, which is unusual in parliamentary committees, unanimous of Labor, Liberal, and The Greens. And that was to change the way we vote to restore the will to the voter through optional preferential voting—so you’d preference through to the extent that you’d wish—and the abolition of group voting tickets.

SPEERS: You could just vote 1 if you want?

SMITH: You could vote one, two, three or one, two three, four. And some changes to party registration to ensure parties are real and genuine. But we pointed out in that report that when someone can get elected into the Senate with just 0.51 per cent of the primary vote and then through preference deals work like a washing machine and be catapulted into the Senate…

SPEERS: …ie Ricky Muir and the Motoring Enthusiast Party?

SMITH: Yes and we pointed that out. Nothing against him personally but we’re very strong on the fact that that does not represent the considered will of the voters, and it was one of the two issues that left voters demoralised and baffled after the last election. The other was the lost votes debacle in Western Australia.

SPEERS: Well indeed. But do you fear that on those specific reforms you recommended—things like requiring parties to have 1 500 genuine members, optional preferential voting in the Senate—do you fear the Government is going to leave those in the bottom drawer now that it needs those cross-benchers to get anything done in the Senate?

SMITH: Well I felt our job was to work hard early to produce a unanimous report, if we could, and I was pleased to be able to do that, and as you pointed out earlier we’ve reported on it. We made that a priority to give time. Getting the unanimous report, I felt, was important if we could because electoral law should be durable. So we handed that report down on the Friday before the Budget to give time. I never for a minute—having a bit to do with budgets myself in the past—thought it would be a matter for legislation immediately with the appropriations bills and the carbon tax…

SPEERS: Sure, but do you still think it will see the light of day, or have you given up on this based on conversations you’ve had?

SMITH: No, no. I want to see it occur. It’s important that it occur. It’s not urgent that it occur this week or even next month or the month after. But David, let’s go back to what we’re confronting here. A situation in New South Wales, there are 110 boxes on the ballot paper, it’s the maximum printable width, it can’t get any bigger; all they can do is shrink the font and they’re handing out…

SPEERS: Magnifying glasses!

SMITH: Magnifying sheets—it is a nonsense! It is an absolute nonsense.

SPEERS: It is.

SMITH: And if voters were scratching their heads when they saw the ballot paper, they were pulling their hair out when they saw the results. That’s just a fact.

SPEERS: Tony Smith, thanks for joining us this afternoon.

SMITH: Thanks David, good to be with you.


Media inquiries: Andrew Hallam (0404 043 764)

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