How people elect parliaments
Long-awaited reforms to the voting system for electing Australia’s senators have finally emerged.
The Government Bill released on Monday pulls back from the widely expected move to allow voters optional preferencing between all the Senate candidates in their state or territory.
But the much-criticised system of ‘group voting tickets’, by which voters were invited to take an easy option of delegating their whole series of preferences to a ticket lodged by a political party, will be abolished.
Australian senators are elected by the single transferable vote system of proportional representation. Voters in each Australian state elect six senators every three years, who serve six year terms in two cycles. Voters in each of the two large Australian territories elects two senators at the same time as each election for the nation’s lower house of Parliament.
The Coalition government has reached agreement with the Greens and South Australian independent Senator Nick Xenophon to support the legislation through the existing Senate.
The opposition Labor party – divided on the merits of the issue – have today decided to oppose the change.
At least six of the seven remaining cross-bench senators – who normally hold the balance of power on the Senate floor – have attacked the move, claiming it denies fair representation to small parties and destroys their future re-election chances.
The acrimony between the Government and the cross-bench appears set to damage legislative cooperation in the remaining months of the present term of Parliament.
An unusual double-dissolution election, in which all 12 senators for each state face re-election simultaneously, has been mooted for July this year, if the Government can overcome difficulties relating to finance appropriation requirements during the Budget months.
The parliamentary committee responsible for electoral issues reported in May 2014, advising the Parliament to abolish group voting tickets, introduce optional preferential voting, and make other changes.
The Government’s Bill will be subjected to a rapid 10-day committee scrutiny, before being debated in mid-March.
Australian psephologists Antony Green, Kevin Bonham and Ben Rau have all broadly supported the bill, with various reservations that it leaves some important matters unresolved.