Crossbench move to push Senate changes beyond double-dissolution date

Family First senator Bob Day is one of eight crossbenchers who would face an election in the event of a double dissolution. Lukas Coch/AAP

Family First senator Bob Day is set to propose an amendment to the legislation changing the Senate voting system that would prevent the government using the new rules in a double dissolution.

Under the amendment, the changes would not come into effect until August. The latest a double dissolution can be held is the first half of July.

In a double dissolution all or almost all of the non-Green crossbenchers would lose their seats except South Australian independent Nick Xenophon. In an ordinary Senate election none of them except Victorian independent senator John Madigan would face the voters.

The government wants the legislation passed by the time parliament rises for the autumn break in mid-March. This would give the Australian Electoral Commission time to have the changes in place if there were a double dissolution.

The amendment is seen as putting some pressure on the Greens, who are supporting the changes, which are aimed at squeezing out “micro” parties that have been “gaming” the system via preferences.

Liberal Democrat crossbencher David Leyonhjelm said he would support the Day move. He said the crossbenchers were looking for ways to “put the pressure on the little dirty deal, slow it all down, not have it rushed”.

Labor is strongly opposing the changes, despite earlier arguing that the upper house voting system needed reform.

Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong said the government-Greens deal, which gives the Coalition the numbers to pass the legislation, was designed to purge the parliament forever of all small parties.

She said the changes would advantage the major parties and the Greens but about 3.3 million people had voted for someone else.

“I think a system which essentially says to that many Australians, we are going to exhaust your votes or coral them for one of those three parties, is not particularly democratic,” she told the ABC.

“What the Greens are doing is essentially pulling up the drawbridge behind them. It would have been unlikely, frankly, that the Greens could have got to … where they currently are, if this system had been in place. What they are saying is: we want to pull up the drawbridge behind us and make sure no one else can get in.”

Labor also thought there was a risk the Greens had done a deal which would enable the Coalition to more easily gain a Senate majority. If the Coalition had had a Senate majority in 2014 the drastic measures of that year’s budget would have got through, she said.

Labor was up for a discussion about Senate reform but its judgement was that the negative consequences of this plan outweighed the benefits, Wong said.