March 12th 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Several items missing from list of the big spend

CANBERRA OBSERVED Greens back Coalition in Senate voting reform

ENERGY Nuclear reprocessing feasible here: SA inquiry

HISTORY OF TAIWAN Fifty-year journey from poverty to prosperity

SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT Warning: wolves in anti-bullying clothing

EDITORIAL Turnbull ignores three elephants in the room

DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Family portrait or ideological caricature?

OPINION Goebbels revisited: the attack on Cardinal Pell

FAMILY AND SOCIETY SSCA apologists try to shrug off media furore

EUTHANASIA Legitimate denial of choice at end of life (Part II of two)

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Welcome backdown on vaccinations

ENVIRONMENT Food bowl emptied due to conservationist myopia

MUSIC Much-loved concertos clouded with melancholy

CINEMA Spotlight in the darkness: Spotlight

BOOK REVIEW Governing Middle-earth

BOOK REVIEW A land of contrasts

LETTERS

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CANBERRA OBSERVED
Greens back Coalition in Senate voting reform




News Weekly, March 12, 2016

The Turnbull Government is enthusiastically embracing Senate voting reform in large part because it sees the proposed changes as the best opportunity of ridding the Parliament of the cumbersome crossbench that both Abbott and Turnbull government ministers have never been able to manage since winning government.

Gary Gray: the last of

Labor’s “Team Sensible”.

If successful the new voting system will stop the practice of micro-parties and obscure groups using the cascading preference system to get elected to the Senate sometimes on a tiny number of votes.

The likes of Victorian Senator Ricky Muir would fail to get elected under the new system. Muir’s Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party gained just 17,122 first-preference votes in Victoria at the 2013 election, or just 0.51 per cent of the statewide vote. Muir piggybacked over two dozen or so other groups with much higher first-preference votes to find himself in the Senate.

Not surprisingly, the crossbench senators who rode into Parliament on the back of the current group ticket voting system are vehemently opposed to the reforms and most would not be re-elected if there were to be a double-dissolution election.

Since 1984, when ticket voting was introduced, voters have had a choice of either numbering every square (“below the line”) on the Senate ticket, or ticking one on the party or group of their choice (“above the line”); after which the previously agreed-to preference deals would be followed until a quota was reached.

In recent years people have worked out how to game the system, harvesting the votes of often obscure or fictitious parties.

The Senate voting legislation aims to abolish group voting tickets, the party-submitted mechanism that decides how preferences flow for supporters who simply vote “above the line” rather than filling in all the candidate squares “below the line”.

The legislation is supported by the Greens and independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, but is opposed by Labor and the other independents.

The legislation will enshrine an optional preferential system above the line. This means that, rather than just voting 1, people will be encouraged to fill in a minimum of six boxes in order of preference in order to elect the six senators in each state. The ballots would still be valid if people just voted 1: but if their preferred choice did not win, the ballot would “exhaust” and not be reallocated to others.

Under the current system voters can select a party (which may be a conservative party) but their vote may end up with a radical left-wing party (or visa versa).

Labor has opportunistically decided to oppose the legislation, even though its shadow special minister of state, Gary Gray, believes the reforms are in the spirit of “upholding the integrity of the constitution” and that they ensure results better reflect the will of voters.

Mr Gray, who is retiring at the next election and is one of the last of Labor’s “Team Sensible”, as late political commentator Christopher Pearson used to describe them, told the Parliament he was “sad” that he had lost the argument in the Labor Party room.

Mr Shorten argued that the legislation would “potentially entrench” the Coalition’s influence in the Senate.

In fact, the biggest criticism of the proposal is that it assists the big parties against the interests of genuine micro-parties that do indeed represent a sector of the electorate.

According to ABC psephologist Antony Green, the legislation is vulnerable to a High Court challenge from minor parties (South Australian Senator Bob Day has already threatened a challenge) that will find it much harder to get representation in the Senate.

Green says that on balance the legislation transfers the power over party preferences from parties to voters. On the other hand, he says that by making it harder for tiny parties to win, it will discourage smaller groups from participating in elections.

Smaller and newly founded parties will battle to challenge the established parties, which will be entrenched because of the voting system.

For the Government’s part, it believes it will be able to clean out the Senate, replacing it with only serious (and supposedly more manageable) political parties, such as the Greens.

It may indeed result in a far less unruly and splintered Senate, but with the Greens still likely to hold the balance of power for the foreseeable future, it will not necessarily mean it will improve the chances of the Coalition getting its legislation through Parliament.




























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