How people elect parliaments
This page summarises ongoing debate over reforms to the systems for electing Australia’s two national houses of Parliament – the House of Representatives and the Senate. In doing so this page tracks election results, developments taking place in Parliament, deliberations in Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) and in the Australian High Court.
This page is also a useful place to load some of my own published material, in the form of public submissions to JSCEM.
The main focus of recent events has been the electoral system – more accurately, the ballot paper design – for elections of the Senate, following a vigorous debate that broke out in 2013.
Australia’s national parliament includes a Senate consisting of 12 senators from each of the six states and two senators from each of the two territories. They have been elected by the single transferable vote method since 1949.
This material below is in reverse historical order: latest events/documents appear at top.
Last updated: 5 November 2016
See also this post reviewing the submissions made to the inquiry.
The Committee is about to conduct hearings and is due to report in early March 2017.
2 July 2016: The 2016 Australian federal elections included a Senate ‘double dissolution’, an unusual election event in which the whole Senate – not merely half of its members – face election simultaneously. In each of the six Australian states 12 seats were open, not the usual 6. The voters elected a historically high number of non-major party senators, including 9 Greens party senators and 11 more minor party senators.
13 May 2016: The High Court has ruled against the challenge brought by Family First Party former Senator Bob Day. The optional preferencing Senate voting method adopted by Parliament in March is therefore valid, and will be used at the 2 July federal election.
April-May 2016: In the weeks following the enactment of the new voting system, the legislation introducing the two new methods has been challenged in the High Court. The case – Day v Australian Electoral Commission – was brought by Senator Bob Day, the sole representative of the conservative christian Family First party in the Senate. Matching challenges were also launched by Family First members in the other states and territories. The group also established an online campaign termed “3 million voices” to promote its cause and seek donations.
The Court received written submissions on the issue, and heard argument from lawyers on 2 and 3 May. The documents and transcripts are available from the High Court.
A ruling by the Court is anticipated in the first week of the election campaign.
February 2016: Link to my submission (#8) to the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry into the Commonwealth Electoral Bill 2016.
The Parliament held a very brief inquiry into this amending Bill, which was introduced by the Government, considered by the Committee, and passed by both houses of Parliament in a few weeks in February and March 2016.
February 2016: After nearly two years of the report of the JSCEM lying neglected, earlier this year the Government abruptly introduced into Parliament a Bill to change the system by which senators were to be elected. Until this year, Australia had a Senate ballot paper system based on compulsory preferencing and an alternative option of choosing a full preference ranking determined by the political party of their choice. The latter option appeared ‘above-the-line’ on the divided ballot paper, and was known as the “ATL” or “group voting ticket” option.
The Bill was passed by Parliament, and the new legislation has established a new system of semi-optional preferencing, together with a ranking-generating facility based on party groups, but without any party voting tickets. The latter option will still appear above-the-line on ballot papers.
May 2014: The release of the First Interim Report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (“JSCEM”), recommending optional preferential voting for the Senate, the abolition of the group voting ticket facility, and other matters such as changes to party registration rules.
April 2014: Attached is my submission (#181) to the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry into the conduct of the 2013 federal election.
The Parliament held its cyclical inquiry into all aspects of the conduct of the 2013 general election. The Senate voting method was the subject of the first interim report of the Committee, released in May 2014.