Published: 19 August 2015

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I am using this opportunity on adjournment to make some comments I wished to make this morning during the joint sitting, but was not given the call to do so.

Mr President, as we know, casual vacancies in the Senate are filled in accordance with section 15 of the Constitution by a meeting of the state legislature, both Houses, or only one in the case of Queensland.  Prior to 1975 the convention was to appoint members of the same party.  This convention was broken twice in 1975.  A successful referendum in 1977 led to a constitutional change enshrining the convention requiring the nominee to be a member of the same party.


In 1987 the Australian Labor Party in Tasmania proposed John Devereaux to fill a casual vacancy.  The legislature failed to approve the appointment and the Parliament was able to deny his appointment but could not appoint anybody else because the appointment had to be a member of the Australian Labor Party.  The casual vacancy was not filled.  It was, so I am told, a political stunt as an election was not far away.  We did not see any stunts today.

I believe a system such as a recount along the lines we have seen to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Nick McKim from the House of Assembly recently may be a more appropriate model.  However, such a process, as I understand it, would require a constitutional change and therefore most likely would require another referendum.

Mr President, this is clearly a debate for another day and I did not plan to respond in the negative to the question posed by the Speaker as, in my view, even if I disagree with the process that occasion was not the time to try to change it.  Rather, such a change of process needs to be fully and properly considered at another time.  I do believe it is appropriate to raise this issue at this time, though, as the question was currently before us to encourage ongoing debate beyond this decision we made this morning.

I accept that Senate vacancies can occur through circumstances beyond the member's control or plans.  Clearly a vacancy arising as a result of a death or retirement through ill health or incapacity to continue to undertake the role does require a robust process to ensure ongoing representation for Tasmania continues.  However, I do feel that vacancies occurring through a retirement are clearly more about convenience than an inability to continue in the role as an elected member, a much more frequent occurrence used by all political parties.

In this case, the process currently used parachutes another person into the position who has not been selected by the people - not that this will guarantee success in the next election, as we have seen in some cases, but it does provide a level of advantage.  I believe this could be done a better way.

As I said, this is not the time to seek to alter the process but rather an opportunity to propose a review of this process.  I acknowledge that the Australian Parliament and particularly the Senate has evolved over time and has moved well beyond that of our founding fathers and what they had in mind.  It does, however, continue to provide a bit of check and balance on the executive government and thus is serving a purpose.

This evolution has meant, though, that the Senate can no longer be construed in any measure to be a states' House.  Changing the process of filling casual vacancies will not alter this, however, and a full review of Senate elections may.  I think that is where we need to head.

The alternative of a by-election to fill a casual vacancy could possibly be unnecessarily expensive costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and may actually return the same result.  I believe there does need to be a much broader review of Senate selection processes where above the line voting is removed and the requirement to vote for every candidate below the line ceases.  The current process results in individuals being elected sometimes with very small numbers of personal votes overall as a result of prearranged preference deals that voters are often unaware of.

I believe there needs to be a full review of all Senate election processes to ensure that all people of Australia have a real say in who they elect to represent them and not be blindsided by preference deals that the voters are not aware of in the future.


The Council adjourned at 6.35 p.m.

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