October 14th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: COMMONWEALTH-STATE RELATIONS: Will Howard override WA on natural gas?

EDITORIAL: Bushfires: an ounce of prevention

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Behind the move to lift cloning ban

INTERNATIONAL TRADE: Farmers protests over free trade in Cairns

TRADE POLICY: Why WTO trade talks failed

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The decline of Labor, the fate of Smith Street, Blair's departure and the Regensburg Address

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: T3 sell-off will not end Telstra's woes

HOUSING: Urban planning is destroying the great Australian dream

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: North Korea's nuclear ambitions: is China really powerless?

ANTI-LIFE CAMPAIGN: The selective indignation of Senator Stott Despoja

OPINION: The case for optional preferential voting

BIOTECHNOLOGY: The ascent of Mount Improbable

The debt trap (letter)

The Pope and Islam (letter)

The Ice epidemic (letter)

BOOKS: LONDONISTAN: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within, by Melanie Phillips

BOOKS: SCOURGE AND FIRE: Savonarola and Renaissance Italy, by Lauro Martines

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The case for optional preferential voting

by David Perrin

News Weekly, October 14, 2006
Australian voting systems do not always produce the best Members of Parliament. Eligible citizens are forced to enrol to vote and are also forced to vote at elections unless they are exempted by limited circumstances.

This system also forces them to compulsory mark preferences for every candidate in an electorate for a vote to be formally counted.

Voters can be alienated by this system, as not all candidates for election may be worthy of support.

An alternative form of voting is called optional preferential and allows voters choice in only voting for candidates that they really want to support.

Optional preferential voting was available to voters in Victoria before it was removed by the Kennett government just prior to its defeat in 1999.

The advantages of optional preferential voting are that voters are given the choice to vote for good candidates without being forced to vote for all candidates by way of preference.

Voters in the recent Queensland election had the choice of using the optional preferential system.

At federal elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate voters are forced to consecutively number their ballot papers in order to be valid.

Victorian reforms

Voters in the upcoming Victorian election will have the choice of a form of optional preferential voting only in the Legislative Council or upper house.

In the Legislative Assembly or lower house this choice is not available, so voters will have to consecutively number each candidate to have their vote counted.

In Victoria, reforms by the Bracks government have introduced Senate-style voting with proportional representation in each of eight electoral regions in the Legislative Council.

Each Legislative Council region will elect five members so that the Legislative Council will have a total of forty members. These members will be elected for one term of four years and will be up for re-election at each election.

As each Legislative Council region has five elected members, voters will be given a choice of voting above the line for the preferences as determined by the parties or voting below the line by consecutively numbering preferences for each candidate.

This system is similar to the voting system at Senate election that is familiar to voters.

However, voters who choose to consecutively vote for candidates below the line will only have to vote for five candidates for their vote to be valid.

This allows people to vote for a minimum of five candidates or up to as many as all the candidates for the Legislative Council or upper house. Voters can vote for at least five different candidates from different parties or for all five candidates for only one party.

It allows voters to only vote for good candidates, for example those that are pro-life even if they are in different parties.

In each of the eight Legislative Council regions, there is a prospect at least one and as many as three candidates being elected from the non major parties or from independents.

Candidates that receive 16.7 per cent of first preference votes will get elected so smaller parties have a very good chance of getting a member elected in each region.

This means that Victorian voters have the chance to vote for an upper house not controlled by the government run by the major parties.

Getting Better MPs.

Optional preferential voting produces a better quality of Member of Parliament because is allows voters to validly vote for good candidates without voting for all candidates, many of whom may not deserve election.

For example, in an election where six candidates are offered with two quality candidates and four unsatisfactory ones, voters can vote 1 for their first choice and 2 for their second choice, and not vote for the unsatisfactory candidates.

With optional preferential voting this vote will be valid and will not be counted only if these good candidates are eliminated.

Optional preferential voting has the benefit of not allowing the election of unsatisfactory candidates on the preferences of good candidates, so major political parties will have to endorse quality candidates to ensure they get the maximum of first preference votes and not rely on preferences from other parties.

Optional preferential voting can benefit Australian democracy by forcing parties to put up good candidates that encourage people to vote for them.

-David Perrin was a Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 1985 to 1999.

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