Last night, senators-elect Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm were interviewed on ABC1’s Lateline. Among the topics discussed was the issue of electoral reform:
EMMA ALBERICI: OK. And now finally onto proposed changes to the voting system, ostensibly to stop the likes of the two of you ever entering the Senate again. What do you think about that, David Leyonhjelm?
DAVID LEYONHJELM: It’s a bit like Coles and Woolworths deciding the rules for the corner shops, and saying, “Well, these are the rules that we think are – should apply,” and if you can get through those rules, then you’re fine and essentially the rules don’t let you get through. You won’t be able to get through them. That’s what it amounts to. The committee was represented by Liberal, Labor and the Greens. There was nobody else on it, as far as I’m aware. And if those recommendations of that committee were applied, the minor parties would be effectively wiped out. I can go into the reasons why if you like, but that would be the end result. Now, 24, 25 per cent of voters did not vote for Liberal, National, Labor or the Greens in the election. Now that would suggest that there should be more senators like Bob and myself, not less.
The committee Leyonhjelm is referring to is the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which has been conducting an inquiry into the senate results at the 2013 federal election since November last year. The committee has just released its interim report.
The interim report makes six recommendations:
- The introduction of optional preferential voting above the line, and partial optional preferential voting below the line
- The abolition of group and individual voting tickets
- Conducting an education campaign regarding the first and second recommendations
- Tightening of party registration requirements
- New parties adhere to the new requirements, and existing parties comply within 12 months
- Determine a mechanism to seek to require candidates to be resident in the state or territory in which they are seeking election.
These recommendations broadly fall into one of two categories – those which expand democracy and those which restrict democracy.
Only the first recommendation seeks to expand democracy. Every other substantive recommendation removes choices from the hands of voters. In particular, tightening party registration restrictions increases barriers to entry to the political system and locks out parties that may achieve
It’s worth pointing out that many of the so-called ‘problems’ identified by the electoral matters committee would be solved by the introduction of voluntary voting and optional preferential voting. This would allow for the full range of democratic expression, while also protecting the integrity of the political system.