I am very pleased to stand in support of the government’s legislation, the Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. The reason this legislation is so important is really clear. History will show that Labor’s ‘Mediscare’ campaign will be seen forever as a very deliberate, dishonest and, mostly, cruel hoax. The part about this that is such an issue is the fact that it was levelled directly at the most vulnerable people. That was the level of thought and care that Labor had for those people—that they would deliberately and dishonestly scare some of the most vulnerable Australians.
There are a few things in this place that you don’t go near, and deliberately and dishonestly scaring the most vulnerable Australians is one of them. But that’s exactly what Labor did. And now in the chamber I saw the previous speaker and the member at the table take absolute pride in the fact that Labor were able to do this. They are proud of it—and that’s the bit that really concerns me most. In this place, this federal House, we are here to protect the rights and freedoms of the Australian people. That’s what I thought we were all here for. Irrespective of what side of politics you sit on, I thought that was our No. 1 job here. I believe that the most vulnerable people are the people that we in this House are here to represent most strongly, and to see Labor hold those very people with such disrespect and disregard that they would scare these most vulnerable people in their homes by using these robo calls is just appalling.
It is absolutely no wonder that we cannot ever trust the Labor Party. This was the clearest demonstration. If anybody out there is wondering where trust lies with Labor, this was the example of where trust does not lie. In fact, this was just one of the most appalling things. I saw it through the eyes of the people who were being called. As I said, we saw those opposite target the most vulnerable, the elderly and those on lower incomes and literally choose to scare them. How dreadful is that? This is just contempt by Labor for our democracy, and it is anathema on everything that every single Member of Parliament in this place is here to represent.
Every individual out there expects us to stand up for their basic freedoms and their rights. They need to be able to trust that when we, as members of parliament, represent ourselves in this place and out in the community we do so in a way that respects those rights. That’s what Labor compromised, and they’re proud of it. I remind every Australian: Labor is proud of scaring people and proud of this ‘Mediscare’ campaign.
An election is defined as:
A formal and organised choice — a choice —
by a vote of a person for a political office or other position.
A particularly important part of that definition is ‘a person’. It implies that a person has made up their own mind through free will, and that their vote is their own to exercise as they see fit. That’s the important part of our democracy. But when they’re scared, fed dishonest information and deliberately misled, that doesn’t allow that fairness; it doesn’t fit the fairness test at all. I know in ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, the people themselves voted on legislation. It was a direct democracy. In modern times, this has obviously evolved, as populations have grown, to the electors choosing representatives to make decisions on their behalf—that is, a representative democracy. However, when we take it back, the essence of democracy is still the integrity of that individual’s vote. It’s that very precious thing that people through the centuries have fought and died for: the freedom to cast a vote unhindered. It was why my mother’s husband fought and died in New Guinea. I take that right to the individual’s vote seriously. Clearly, Labor treats it with contempt in order to scare vulnerable people.
People have the right to seek and receive information on who they should vote for. Over time, as political parties have evolved, they have tried to persuade people to vote for a candidate representing a particular party. In the early days, there were no rules on what could be said by parties or organisations about other candidates. So, clearly, the rules were put in place for a reason: so that those people, whose precious votes matter, could make the best decision for themselves and could make a clear decision. We see ads on TV and other media, such as printed material, and at the very end of those ads we see or hear said words. Those words make sure that voters know who paid for the ads—whether it was a political party or an entity like a trade union or GetUp!—so that they know who is trying to persuade them to vote for a particular party or candidate. It’s a very important part of our electoral law and the absolute protection that voters need. But this approach by Labor, using robocalls and targeting people on the basis of what was an outright lie, was just appalling. These calls were made without authorisation and were deliberately deceptive. That’s why this legislation is so important.
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters looked into this, and their terms of reference included all aspects of the federal election. They took evidence from political parties and made a number of recommendations to strengthen the legislation around the requirement for authorising communications. Their report is where this legislation has its roots. We are putting the committee’s recommendations into law to protect democracy and to protect that precious vote and the right of the individual to make a clear and informed decision. That is what we need to protect.
I read some of the comments made within the report. The Greens actually stated that they recognised the importance of voters being aware of the source of party, candidate and third-party communications. They believed that the overarching requirement is that the voter who reads or views a communications is aware of who it comes from. Now, that’s reasonable.
The director of the Liberal Party gave evidence and said, ‘Well, you should be able to work out who is raising an issue with you and what they’re saying. It gives an elector some notice and they can make judgements about it, in the same way they can with a TV ad, a radio ad, a mail piece or anything similar online that has money behind it.’ Again, that is a very reasonable position and in line with this legislation. The Labor Party said in its submission, ‘The purpose of authorisation is to allow electors to identify the person responsible for printing or broadcasting.’ However, they did add that they would be extremely concerned by any proposal to impose stricter regulations on any individual participant or class of participants in an election campaign—for example, GetUp!, trade unions and stakeholders. In other words, Labor wants to perpetuate the process of being able to provide deliberately leading and dishonest information to voters. They want to continue to be able to misrepresent themselves and claim to be someone similar to Medicare. They want to scare vulnerable people yet again. Of course, what we saw was deliberately misleading information. It was a lack of truth. It was absolute deception and it compromised the individual’s targeted right to a free and fair election.
Even if we make this law, I am concerned about what Labor will do from here. When ACTU Secretary Sally McManus talked about the law, she said, ‘But when it’s unjust, I don’t think there’s a problem about breaking it.’ So we could well see more of that even with this law, that the unions and Labor could well see they are justified in breaking the law, that laws in Australia don’t matter. They only matter if they think they’re right or they believe in it, otherwise they don’t matter—’We’ll just do whatever we want.’ Imagine if everybody in our community had that view and simply disregarded the laws that were inconvenient or didn’t fit their particular agenda, as Labor does. Clearly with Labor opposing this bill, this is a very sad day for democracy because that’s what this is about—it’s simple.
To be proud and boast about undermining democracy, as Labor has, is an absolute scandal; it’s a scandal. I tend to believe that people come here to represent their electorates. They come here to represent very good people from all walks of life. What we are here to do is to protect the very rights of those people in this place. That’s what we are here to do as members of parliament. It just beggars belief that Labor would not support that right of the individual, and their access to accurate information so that they can make an informed decision, irrespective of which way that decision goes.
We all know in politics that governments change continually, but in those changes what we do want to see are free and fair elections. We need to constantly and vigorously uphold the rights of the individual to that precious vote. I was in Cambodia some years ago with the United Nations to observe the election—and of course we know the history of Cambodia. One of the things that have to happen in elections there is electors have to dip their finger in indelible ink to prove that they’ve only voted once. Because they are a relatively new democracy, one of the greatest excitements for those people coming out of the election booths was to talk to me with my UN badge on and show me their finger to prove that they had voted. They hadn’t had the right to vote for so long and they were so extraordinarily proud of the right to vote and the fact that they had been able to have their say. Now, I tend to think that, at times, we take this right for granted in Australia. But I would say to every Australian, take this as your inherent responsibility and opportunity.
Take this right to vote as something that, frequently around the world, our men and women of the Defence Forces work diligently overseas and here—we send them out on deployments—to protect. The fact that our greatest war grave is not in Australia shows that Australia takes up the fight for our freedoms and democracy—and for the freedoms and democracy of other countries around the world. This is a very, very good reason. It is one of the reasons I thought that we were all here—that is, to protect those rights and those freedoms. I see the freedom of having access to accurate information—not being deliberately misled—as a core part of the responsibilities of each one of us in this place. I take it seriously. Coalition members take it seriously. Clearly, you cannot again trust Labor.