Federal Politics

Malcolm Turnbull attacks Senate 'disgrace' as crossbenchers plot revenge

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has branded the 2013 Senate election result "an embarrassment" and the preference deals that delivered power to the micro-parties a "disgrace" as upper house crossbenchers came together to plot revenge for the Coalition's voting reforms.

In his strongest comments yet on the issue, Mr Turnbull told the NSW Liberal Party faithful on Saturday he was seeking to "restore democracy" with his bill to introduce optional preferential voting, which would purge Parliament of the micro-parties. The bill is expected to pass this month with Greens support.

"The 2013 Senate election was really an embarrassment for Australian democracy," he said at the Liberal State Council meeting on the Central Coast.

"People elected through back-room preference whispering deals, elected on a tiny percentage of votes, was a disgrace."

His comments came as key crossbenchers David Leyonhjelm and Bob Day met with so-called preference whisperer Glenn Druery and a host of other micro-party figures in Sydney to war game a response to the legislation.

Mr Druery's work helped get a number of minor party figures elected, including Ricky Muir, on just 0.5 per cent of the primary Senate vote in Victoria.

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After the meeting Senator Leyonhjelm said the more than 30 parties represented – from his Liberal Democrats to Family First to the Sex Party – were united in their quest for retribution for the reforms.

"They're facing oblivion these parties. So the feeling is, if we're going to be executed, we'll take a few of those bastards with us," he told Fairfax Media.

The parties agreed on a strategy to coordinate their electoral runs to make life difficult for both the Coalition and the Greens.

He said the progressive parties will focus their firepower on the Greens-held seat of Melbourne, and a handful of lower house seats the Greens hope to pick up from Labor this year.

They will preference Labor ahead of the Greens in a bid to block their expansion and deliver Melbourne back to the ALP.

And the "right-wing" parties like the Liberal-Democrats and Family First – normally quite supportive of the government's agenda – will focus their fire on marginal Coalition seats.

Meeting attendees ran through about a dozen Coalition seats they plan to target, nominating the seats of Petrie in Queensland, held by Luke Howarth, Banks in NSW, held by David Coleman, and La Trobe in Victoria, held by Jason Wood for particular attention.

Responding to Mr Turnbull's comments, Senator Leyonhjelm said he couldn't understand the Coalition's motivations. He pointed out that with the crossbench gone the government will not get a majority in its own right . Rather, it will have to negotiate either with Labor or the Greens and Nick Xenophon.

"Why he thinks that is good for this government's agenda is beyond me. He has got legislation through this crossbench which he never would have got through if he had to deal with Greens and Xenophon," he said.

Mr Turnbull said the only beneficiaries of the changes would be the Australian people, not the major political parties.

"It will ensure that the Senate is, as closely as possible, representative of the wishes of the people at the election. And that, after all, is what parliamentary democracy is meant to do," the PM said.

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