Australian Electoral System

I wish to discuss democratic political reform. Members will not often hear me discuss that issue in this House because I think our system is pretty good, unless of course we can get some honesty in The Nationals party labelling, The Nationals being the political party that deserted regional New South Wales. The recent Federal election has got me thinking about the way we vote in this country and the effects for our State. Australia has a proud history as one of the leaders of electoral reform. As an example, our invention of the secret ballot is represented by the fact that it was known as the Australian ballot for many years. However, in the present day, it seems we have lost our way.

Our electoral system at both a State and Federal level is now so complex that it is incomprehensible for many and so abused that it is quickly becoming the subject of ridicule. Recent days have confirmed what we already suspected: that the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Australian Sports Party will take their place in the Federal Senate after July next year. Do not get me wrong: I am all for motoring and sport, and I am certainly for liberty and democracy. However, the fact that those parties have managed to leverage their way into our nation’s highest legislative House must be of concern. It should be of great concern to us in this Parliament as the Senate’s role is to represent the rights of the States. That is our federalist system, and these bizarre results undermine it. It could be argued that the natural vagaries of a democratic system should be left alone. However, the trouble is that the election of these parties is not a true reflection of the intentions of voters in their respective States.

The Sports Party candidate in Western Australia is about to become a Federal senator on the basis of 0.22 per cent of the primary vote. In Victoria, the Motoring Enthusiasts Party candidate will join the States’ House on the back of 0.53 per cent. Can we really say that their respective States have chosen these candidates as their representatives? In New South Wales the story is even more bizarre. The Liberal Democratic Party’s election to fill a Senate seat is explicable only by the fact that it was the first on the ballot paper, and that many voters thought they were voting for the Liberal Party. How else could one explain a nearly 9 per cent primary vote for a party that had made no significant public comment during the campaign? I mean no disrespect to the Liberal Democrats or its candidate, but surely members of this Parliament are ill at ease with being represented on the national stage by someone who was elected by voter error.The Australian Electoral Commission and successive Federal governments have allowed this problem to fester, and now we are seeing the result. The ABC’s election oracle, Antony Green, warned us of this before the election. He said that minor party candidates could get themselves elected based on miniscule primary votes by making a series of preferences deals with other parties, and guess what happened? He calls it preference harvesting. Whatever it is called, it is a process which distorts the will of the people. Our State has played a role in the confusion as well, it must be said. I believe, and the political commentariat are coming around to this view in light of recent developments, that our optional preferential system is far better. It allows voters to number parties above the line. The preferences go where voters want them to go, if they want them to flow at all. However, having two different systems for two different layers of government is bound to cause confusion.In the lower House there can be no doubt that in the recent Federal election, some voters would have simply put “1” next to their candidate of choice and incorrectly left the other squares blank, because that was how they voted last time, at the State election in 2011. Their vote would not have counted. This is a serious glitch in our democracy and it will take a joint effort between the States and the Federal Government to fix it. We must unify our electoral systems nationwide so that this sort of confusion cannot take place, and cannot be exploited by minor political parties. The Premier needs to get on the phone to the Prime Minister and his fellow State Premiers and work on a plan to end the confusion. If we do not sort this out, our State will continue to be represented by the winners of a mathematical lottery.