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Electoral reform

May 9, 2014

JSCEM interim report on Senate reform

An interim report by the parliamentary committee looking into last year's election suggests the parliament will proceed sensibly with the once-in-a-generation task of tackling Senate electoral reform.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has today released an interim report on its inquiry into last year’s election, which very pleasingly establishes that the Coalition, Labor and the Greens have agreed to pursue sensible reform to the Senate electoral system. The recommendation is to follow the New South Wales example in having optional preferential voting above-the-line, meaning voters can number as many boxes as they choose and their preferences will exhaust at the point where the numbering of party boxes ends. Those who vote below-the-line will be required to number as many boxes as there are vacancies, meaning six at normal half-Senate elections, twelve at double dissolutions and two at Senate elections for the territories. Crucially, this means an end to group ticket votes, whereby above-the-line voters have a full suite of preferences allocated for them by the party of their choice. As well as closing the door on preference harvesting such as has enabled the election of candidates from as little as 0.5% of the vote, this will discourage the proliferation of micro-parties and the consequent swelling of ballot papers, greatly reducing the very considerable number of voters whose vote does not express their true intention. A further recommendation to make life harder for micro-parties is a requirement that they have 1500 members to register as a party rather than the existing 500, which if anything was less onerous than the equivalent rules at state level and allowed those who cleared the hurdle to field candidates in every state, regardless of how little presence they had there.

The electoral implications of this with respect to the last election have been mapped out by Antony Green, who calculates that “the Coalition would hold 35 seats not 33, Labor 27 not 25, the Greens 9 not 10, and others 5 not 8”. However, this assumes no change in the first preference voting results, when the new system with its less cluttered ballot papers would assuredly have limited such phenomena as the Liberal Democratic Party vote in New South Wales approaching 10% on the back of confusion among Liberal supporters, and voters opting for a micro-party after giving up on locating their true party of choice out of as many as 44 options listed. While it is clear that the new system will make life harder for very small parties, the exhaustion of a large share of the vote due to the optional preferential aspect of the system will mean that the winner of the last seat will usually be elected on well under a full quota, leaving a door open for smaller concerns with a genuinely substantial basis of support. By Antony’s reckoning, “a minor party would probably need about 5% of the vote to have any chance of winning a seat”.

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35 comments

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Disasterboy
Guest

I do prefer full preferencing ATL, so a vote retains as much value as possible through the count. And I do prefer a not having a losing quota as I feel that devalues the franchise.

And to respond to Kevin Bonham’s question from a post in the distant past: the injustice of the ‘wastded quota’ system is different to the malapportionment between states because it requires a Constitutional change or breaking up the larger States and a lot more politicians. Constitutional reform is worthy, but electoral reform, I think is the subject here. I support a federal system for Australia, but I’m not overly attached to the historic numbers and borders. I understand and respect, however, that many do have such attachments.

pedant
Guest

Tom the first and best @ 28: Your question is a bit like asking about Napoleon’s attitude to the hydrogen bomb. The idea of OPV above the line flowed from preference harvesting at NSW elections in the 1990s: it simply wasn’t in anyone’s mind in 1983. What was there, rightly or wrongly, was a strong sense that full preferencing, however achieved, was desirable. The Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform in fact recommended a more expansive “savings clause” for BTL votes than was ultimately enacted: the more restrictive version was put in place at the initiative of Senator Michael Macklin of the Australian Democrats.

pedant
Guest

David Walsh @ 32: No, and in fact there was at least one Senate recount done during the random sampling era, which also wound up in the High Court (the issue being whether new random samples should be taken as part of the recount: the Court said Yes). See http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/HCA/1965/7.html

David Walsh
Guest

Wouldn’t random selection make a recount impossible? (Perhaps after the WA mess, not such a bad thing.)

As for the OPV recommendation. Hooray. Long overdue.

pedant
Guest

William Bowe @ 30: I think that needs to be read in the context of Antony Green’s arguments before the Committee that the NSW approach of treating only transferable votes as eligible to be moved in a surplus should apply. They certainly aren’t seeking a return to random sampling.

Tom the first and best
Guest
Tom the first and best

Also, as what the micro parties have increasingly tended to do over the last couple of decades shows, if you create a loophole then eventually someone will take advantage of it until you close it.

Tom the first and best
Guest
Tom the first and best

27

On what grounds would the Democrats have opposed full preferencing ATL?

I know they were in favour of full preferencing, so would have opposed optional preferential ATL (like it looks we are going to get) but I still see no reason why they would have opposed voters controlling their own preferences. It also would have prevented the jump in informal votes in the HoR in 1984.

pedant
Guest

lefty e @ 26: Calling voting tickets an “abomination” is more than a bit over the top. Back in 1983 the GVT mechanism was the only change to the Senate system which had a hope of getting the support of the Australian Democrats, who held the balance of power in the Senate, and the alternative was to continue to live with the scandalous levels of informal voting which had marked the preceding decade. Ticket voting worked very well for 20 years in getting the informal vote right down, thereby enfranchising literally millions; and if the micro-parties hadn’t started to game the system, the broader public would probably have been happy to keep the ticket system forever. The important point is that a system’s operation is determined not just by its intrinsic features, but also by how the parties adjust their strategies around it.

lefty e
Guest

Thank the lord. The end of the abomination of group voting tickets.

What a crock it was!

B.C.
Guest

Given the smartest people in Parliament are generally serving on the front bench rather than committees I’m not sure most of the committee would understand the arguments any better than the rest of the community.

pedant
Guest

It’s actually a really bad tactical error on the part of activists to advocate before parliamentary committees untried, untested systems like the Wright idea, or extremely complex systems like Meek which they can’t readily explain. The case for WIG would have been much stronger if it had been put purely in terms of implementing federally a scheme that had already worked in WA. Talking about Wright and Meek in the same breath served only to damage the case for WIG. (And that’s quite apart from arguments about Droop quotas!)

pedant
Guest

It’s extremely unlikely that the Committee will have anything more to say about the battling Gregorys. They basically don’t give a rats about the issue, because it’s by no means obvious that the choice of one approach rather than another will systematically advantage or disadvantage any of the political players. Inclusive Gregory has been in use for 30 years now, and the oft-expressed view of the JSCEM seems to be that it has, all things considered, not worked too badly. They acted on ticket voting because it was widely perceived to have produced a seriously anomalous result, for reasons which were pretty obvious. The people in Australia who understand and care about the Gregory/IG/WIG issue would fit comfortable in a small marquee tent, and the politicians know that.

Tom the first and best
Guest
Tom the first and best
pedant
Guest

Kevin Bonham @ 17: You would be a brave person indeed to advocate the Wright system for a national election, given that as far I have been able to figure out, it has never been used until now to elect anyone anywhere, and is therefore, in the most literal sense, nothing but a figment of Mr van der Craats’s imagination.

pedant
Guest

Arrnea Stormbringer @ 19: Look at chapter 4 of David M. Farrell and Ian McAllister, “The Australian Electoral System: origins, variations and consequences”, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2006.

Arrnea Stormbringer
Guest

@ KB, Tom

Anywhere I can get a rundown on the differences between these Gregory systems? Never heard of any of them.

Tom the first and best
Guest
Tom the first and best

17

You would prefer plain old Gregory to Inclusive Gregory?

Kevin Bonham
Guest

I advocated WIG, Wright, Meek: anything but vanilla Inclusive Gregory!

Kevin Bonham
Guest

Tom the first and best@15

14

However there has been no movement on switching from Inclusive Gregory to Weighted Inclusive Gregory ans the means of surplus distribution in the Senate.

Yes I’m hoping this one remaining stain will be swept away when the full report comes out.

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