Published: 25 August 2015

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Madam Acting President, I support this bill in principle.  Although it levels the playing field a bit, there are some areas that do need a bit more clarification from the honourable member for Western Tiers.


Some may have scoffed at the suggestion that if there are a number of independents standing that it could look like a party of independents or an independent party, whichever way you want to put it.  That is not so unbelievable as it was not that long ago when Bob Katter was trying to get a party of independents together.  He did a tour around the state.  He came to visit me a couple of times and then I was no longer available after that.  He was seriously trying to get a party of independents together.  There is always the potential in the future for someone to seek to register a party with the word 'independent' in it.  I have not looked right through all the legislation to see whether that would be in breach of legislation.  If it is not prohibited and someone could seek to then have a party registered meeting all the other criteria you have to meet to register a party with the word 'independent' in it, then it could become confusing. 

That is what harks back to the point the honourable member for Mersey raised about having a definition of 'independent'.  What does it really mean?  We say we understand what it means.  The honourable member for Rosevears' electorate knew what it meant, or maybe they just like Kerry Finch.  They just like the honourable member for Rosevears because he had done a very good job and he had represented his community very well.  It would not have mattered what he had after his name, they would have re-elected him because of the work he has done.  Whether it was because he was independent or whether it was because it was him, you would never really know. 

I wonder whether we need to make it clear what we mean by 'independent' and whether that is the right word.  Is it 'unaligned'?  It is not aligned with a particular political party, but is it not aligned with other people who claim to be independent? 

Mrs Hiscutt -  Would it be 'ungrouped'? 

Ms FORREST - It could be.  I am just asking, is there another way?  I am trying to explore this, and the honourable member for Western Tiers may well have looked at all these things. 

I did go quickly to the New South Wales and Victorian legislation where you can use the word 'independent', and they do not define it.  Clearly it must work there and people must understand it.  Maybe we do not need to worry.  I want to put it on the record because it is potentially an issue for the future. 

I am not saying it is a die-in-the-ditch thing but I am wondering, is there value in considering a definition of 'independent', to make it clear what it means, to be forwardthinking and to think about what could happen in the future with other registered parties? 

I would like the honourable member for Western Tiers to respond to this in his reply.  In the second reading speech he talked about the proposed amendment to section 81 of the principal act provided by this bill which would allow the word 'independent' to appear on the Legislative Council ballot paper under a candidate's name, provided he or she wants the word 'independent' to appear and he or she is not a registered member, that is, a person whose name does not appear in the party register as a registered party member. 

Does that mean, if a candidate standing as an independent is a member of a political party, that they cannot do it?  Even if they said, 'I am a member of the whatever party, but I am standing as an independent', and rather than call themselves 'independent Liberal' or 'independent Labor' or 'independent Green', whatever it might be, they just want to say they are an independent, even though they are going to act independently, they are not going to be influenced by the party?  We have seen examples of that in this place where they do not follow a party line.  You are actually denying someone who may wish to acknowledge their roots, acknowledge that they are a traditional Liberal Party member; they share Liberal Party views, or Labor or the Greens, but you are denying them the opportunity to stand.  They are going to have to resign their membership to do it.  Is their a time frame?  I just wanted to clarify that. 

Mr Hall - No time frame. 

Ms FORREST - They resign the day before the writ is issued, basically. 

Mr Hall - That is fine if they want to do that. 

Ms FORREST - Yes.  That is fine if that is the way it is, but in my election in 2005 there were a couple of candidates who stood against me.  One of them basically did just that, resigned from the Liberal Party days before or a short period before.  Another one had been a member of the Labor Party for a period of time and resigned some time before.  It is always one of those things that are thrown up in debates when you are out and about having candidate forums.  We were asked this a number of times when we had candidate forums, 'Have you ever been a member of a political party?'  Well, I quite accurately and truly said, 'No, never.  I've never aspired to be.'  Some of those others were reluctant to answer that question and skirted around it because there is a connotation - are you really independent?  Are you really going to be independent or are we just electing another Labor or another Liberal or another Green? 

I would like to hear the member for Western Tiers' views on the need for a definition around what independent actually is.  Is it unaligned with any registered political party and unaligned with any other independent member?  It comes to what is independent.  The former teacher here to my left in the Chamber, the member for Mersey, said that effectively when we are using the term 'independent' it has to be used as a noun, because if you are going to be independent Liberal or independent Labor, it then becomes an adjective. 

Mr Finch - You are right.  There is that cynical understanding of parties; they know the value and the strength of being independent.  I remember in my first campaign in 2002 there was a partyaffiliated person who stood as an independent, and it was driven very strongly by the party because they understood the value of being labelled an independent. 

Ms FORREST - That is right.  As we all know, in this place particularly, we are unique in the world as we have always had a majority of independent members, so it is highly valued.  We are a bit of an enigma around the world.  When you travel around the world, particularly around Commonwealth countries for anyone who has been away for any Commonwealth Parliamentary Association stuff, they ask, 'So how does it work in Tasmania, and how come it has always been independent?'  I always say the independence of the upper House is highly valued.  It is there as a House of review.  If you are electing a Labor member in sheep's clothing or a Liberal in sheep's clothing, then are we really maintaining that true independent nature?  You cannot control it.  Everyone comes with their own history, even though I for one have never been a member of a political party and there are probably others in this room who also fit that bill.  I have been called Liberal, Labor and Green - I have been called everything, so I think I cover all bases and people cannot put me in a box. 

It is that perception about 'What does it really mean?'.  If you come with that history, regardless of your vote, unless you declare it, no-one needs to know your voting pattern over the past.  We were asked that in the forums, 'How have you voted in the past?'  I said, 'Well, the truth of the matter is I have voted Liberal, I have voted Labor and I have never voted Greens.'  I answered the question truthfully. 

Mr Finch - The green cardigan is a bit of a giveaway. 

Ms FORREST - It is a nice colour, is it not?  It is nice and bright; it matches my past nicely. I assume that other people similarly answer honestly, but how do you know?  Your voting intentions are a private matter, I believe, unless you wish to disclose them. 

Mr Gaffney - One issue that might be raised is that a person who might be part of Save the Tarkine or any of the environmental wilderness groups, someone who is obviously Green but has never formally signed with the Australian Greens Party, can sign up as an independent.  Sometimes people think, 'Well, that is not really true because I actually do have those values, I do follow that.  Should I just not put anything or should I put "Independent"?'  I think unless 'independent' is actually defined in the bill, or is somehow acknowledged - 

Ms FORREST - It does make it a little uncertain if you have a grey area, I guess.  It is not compulsory to do it, as the member for Western Tiers has rightly pointed out.  If, for whatever reason, you choose not to, what does that say?  I am not arguing that we should not do this; I think we should.  It is a matter of having the opportunity to identify yourself in a meaningful way.  Why are we just sticking to the word 'independent'?  Why can we not also have 'unaligned'?  Maybe another word or other words could indicate more fully who you are and what you stand for, or you define 'independent' in such a way that it clearly spells out what we are about, and we all agree on that. 

Mrs Hiscutt -  I am reading here about Nick Xenophon, the independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who wants to start a party of independents.  So you have to be - 

Ms FORREST - That is what I am saying - 

Mrs Hiscutt -  He is saying, 'I want to be an alternative voice, being able to put up candidates in other states and let people decide.'  That sounds like a party to me. 

Ms FORREST - That is what I am saying.  I thank the member for Montgomery for drawing my attention to that.  It is the same sort of thing Bob Katter was doing a few years ago.  We could well see, in the not too distant future, a party registered with the word 'independent' in it.  How confusing will that be?  You are on the ballot paper with 'Ruth Forrest, Independent' and 'Joe Bloggs, Nick Xenophon's Independent Party' or whatever it is called, but the 'independent' is there.  I am not really sure; I know this has been looked at.  I know the member for Western Tiers has given a great deal of thought to this, not just once.  Some issues may require a little bit more work, and I would be happy to hear from the member about those. 

Mr Farrell - When the member from Montgomery raised that issue, I thought that it is a little bit like the independent grocery stores - they are all owned separately, but they all have the same specials, branding and way of operating, even through they are independent grocery stores. 

Ms FORREST - They all look the same. 

Mr Farrell - They are all the same, so that is probably - 

Mr Hall - Are you saying we are all the same? 

Mr Farrell - No, I would never say anything like that.  I will keep quiet now. 

Ms FORREST - It is a valid argument.  You are saying that independent grocery stores are owned independently, but actually operate under the same sort of model. 

Mrs Hiscutt -  They are just not one of the majors - 

Mr Farrell - Not Woolworths, not Coles. 

Ms FORREST - They are not Labor or Liberal; they are not Coles or Woolies; they are independent.  This is a bit like we are saying here - those of us who are independent, not Liberal or Labor, we are independent, but what does that really mean?  Are we aligned in another way?  I think our voting patterns show we are not.  You could ask Kevin Bonham to do an assessment; I am sure he would work it out.  Line up in different ways at different times.  I am sure he is probably on to it now.  Are we creating a separate problem here?  Is there a problem here we need to address before we proceed with it?  I do not doubt we need to proceed with it, but is there a way of making it clearer to ensure it is not misinterpreted and does not become a problem further down the track?  This legislation is forward-thinking, as well as addressing the matters now or soon. 

Mr Gaffney - I can understand the papers saying eight independents voted against something, even though there were 10, they don't connect us together.  If you have people who have been voting because they were independents aligned on the party form, it's the 'Independent' party because that is how they are seen - 

Ms FORREST - How are you going to differentiate between Nick Xenophon Independent, Bob Katter Independent, and true-blue independent?  I do not know.  These are some questions for the honourable member for Western Tiers to contemplate in his response.  I am sure he is all over it. 

I support the principle of the bill. 

[4.35 p.m.]

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