Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

05 September 2017

DR CHALMERS (Rankin) (18:29): I rise to briefly address the Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. In doing so, I acknowledge the great work of my colleague in the other place, Senator Farrell, who has carried this legislation for the Labor Party. He has spent a lot of time with his counterparts in the government over the last few weeks and months to get to this outcome that we hope to support today, subject to the amendments that I understand will be moved by the government shortly.

Subject to the government's moving those amendments that have been agreed between the major parties, we will be supporting this electoral legislation. It's a response to the issues canvassed and discussed by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, the JSCEM, in the committee's interim report on the authorisation of voter communication. We've got some terrific colleagues from all sides of the House on that committee, but we've got the member for Scullin and the member for Oxley here, who, along with Senator Ketter from our side, have done an extraordinary amount of good, considered work on the matters before us which have become this bill. I wanted to acknowledge the work of those three, and also Senator Brown, for the work that they've done collectively with colleagues from the other parties.

I recognise that since this bill was originally proposed a lot of work has gone into explaining the intentions of the bill, the practical implementation of various parts of the bill. I acknowledge the work of the Special Minister of State, Senator Ryan. I know from my colleagues across the table and from around the place that Senator Ryan is unwell. We wish him a speedy recovery from his illness. We also acknowledge that he has been available to us, despite his illness, as we worked through some of the issues to get to the resolution that I hope we reach by the time the government moves its amendments and we support the amended bill.

We have a pretty simple objective with this electoral legislation: we want to ensure that the rules and regulations surrounding political communication are clear, but also that they don't hinder genuine political communication—that they don't overreach and get in the way of genuine, legitimate, important conversations in our democracy. That's really where we've come from as we've worked through these issues and as the JSCEM colleagues have worked through these issues. That committee recommended that any new requirements for electoral authorisation be clear, concise and easy to navigate, and we agree. The JSCEM also recommended that, as far as was practical, the authorisation requirements shouldn't interfere with the primary and obvious purpose of that communication with electors.

The opposition through discussions with the government have queried, over the past few weeks and months, many of the provisions that were put before the House to ensure that we are achieving those pretty simple objectives for political communication. I think it is fair to say that one key point of contention has been the bill's application to modern communication techniques, in particular digital communication. We don't want to see an authorisation regime which places onerous burdens on otherwise timely digital communication. That's neither a desirable nor an acceptable outcome from our point of view. Through correspondence with the minister, the opposition, via Senator Farrell, have sought and subsequently received assurances that the practical implementation of the legislation that remains and that will be amended will not cut across those well-considered recommendations arrived at by the JSCEM. On top of that, I acknowledge that the Electoral Commission has provided some further information which relates to the practical application of any new regime. The opposition are grateful for their assistance as well.

The main reason that we can support the amended legislation before us is that the government has removed the purely and quite ridiculously political measures in schedule 2, which were in the original proposal, which were contrary to the recommendations of the JSCEM and were dealt with elsewhere in the relevant electoral legislation. We do understand—it's not our choice—that, unfortunately, the government will continue to pursue those, which is not entirely surprising. Anyone who saw the Prime Minister's dummy spit on election night, 14 months ago, would not be entirely surprised to hear that, having whinged and whined his way around the country for 14 months—

Mr Dick: Tantrum!

DR CHALMERS: with that big tantrum, as the member for Oxley rightly points out. No-one would be surprised that they want to continue with this ridiculous tantrum, which wouldn't be fitting for the under 11s at Rochedale Rovers losing a grand final, let alone for the Prime Minister of a great nation like ours. So it is disappointing but not entirely surprising to hear that they will continue to pursue this pretty ridiculous campaign, which flies in the face of the considered work of the committee and which isn't consistent with the attitude of the minister, who has been, as I said, accommodating. A bit of free advice for the Prime Minister: it's not really a good look to run around the country for 14 months whingeing and whining about an election result. He kept the country waiting long enough on election night. To drag it out more than a year after the election is a pretty disturbing and disappointing outcome.

The core underlying issue is not even the electoral laws. It is ideological. It is that this government can't be trusted with Medicare. They haven't believed in it since day one, since the days of Howard and before, and they look for any opportunity to strangle it. When that was called out during the election campaign, the Australian people reacted as they should, and they said, 'Take your hands off Medicare.' We shouldn't pretend it was some kind of aspect of the campaign that led Australians to believe that. It is a core belief of the Australian people that we should have the best health system in the world, we should have Medicare, we should have universal health care and your access to health care should be determined by your Medicare card and not your credit card. So the Australian people reacted as we expected they would. That wasn't an electoral issue. It wasn't about the regime around the electoral rules; it was about a fundamental belief.

We maintain that fundamental belief in Medicare. It is disappointing that those opposite do not. They are even dragging out the unfreezing of the rebates, which just shows again that they didn't learn the lesson of that election last year, 14 months ago. The Prime Minister did infamously call the police in when he nearly lost that election. They told him there was absolutely no case to answer, so he has tried to change the rules. He should spend less time reprosecuting last year's election and more time rectifying his cuts to Medicare. It's all part of the circus on that side of the House, unfortunately—this whole fracas about Medicare and the election and the electoral rules. We are always in the cart for a proper conversation about good electoral rules which keep pace with the times, but we won't indulge the Prime Minister's dummy spit.

The opposition, through the shadow special minister of state, my colleague Senator Farrell, will continue to work with the government to ensure our laws function as intended and that legitimate political communication is not hindered or interfered with. We won't, as I said before, indulge that dummy spit from the Prime Minister, but we will support the bills when they're amended, after some discussion, some consultation, some negotiation and a lot of good work from people on all sides of this House.