JSCEM – move for Senate voting reform


The federal Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) held hearings yesterday in Canberra, where representatives from five political parties presented evidence on how to reform the Senate voting system, following previous hearings from experts and officials over the last three months.

Yesterday’s appearances, as well as late submission from the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party, saw both parties come out in support of the abolition of group voting tickets (GVTs), and the introduction of optional preferential voting (OPV) in the Senate. The Greens have supported the model for a long time, and the model is currently in use for the NSW Legislative Council.

The Nationals only supported abolishing GVTs if compulsory preferential voting was maintained, which would force voters to number a large number of boxes for their vote to count. That seems unlikely to fly.

Other proposals were made, including the Liberal Party coming out for rules requiring voters to show photo identification when voting. However it seems that JSCEM is planning to put off matters unrelated to the Senate voting system until later in the year, and is now focusing on changes that will effect the Senate.

The umbrella of changes affecting the Senate appears to include two broad approaches: changing the voting system, and changing rules around nominations and party registration.

In addition to the Senate counting system, three other major proposals were raised.

Both major parties proposed various ways to restrict registration of political parties. Both parties recommended increasing the minimum number of members a party needs to be registered from 500 to 2000, and a variety of proposals to ban a person from serving as registered officer for more than one party, requiring parties to be registered one year in advance (as is the case in NSW), and raising the standards for what parties have to do to demonstrate that a person is a member of their party.

The theory behind the 2000-member rule is based on the 750-member threshold required for parties to register for NSW elections, and increased proportionally to reflect that NSW makes up about one third of the Australian population.

This theory is fine for political parties that have a presence in most of the country, but it’s quite a common phenomenon that a party may exist in only one or a small number of states, and in such cases 2000 members would be a very high bar to cross.

The Liberal Party proposed a solution to this problem by allowing parties registered for state elections to run in that state for federal elections, but I’m not sure if that would work.

Various proposals also attempted to deal with the problem of parties running candidates across the country who don’t live in the state where they are running by proposing that Senate candidates be required to be resident in the state where they run. Australia has never previously had residency requirements for running in federal elections, and there may be constitutional issues with imposing such a requirement. No-one suggested my preferred solution of requiring candidates to have 100 nominators who live in their state, which would effectively cut down on frivolous candidates who have no presence in the state where they are running.

The Liberal Party also proposed a bizarre threshold, which would effectively throw out those votes for any group that failed to poll 10% of a quota (approximately 1.4%) – not only would those candidates not be eligible, but their voters’ preferences would not be passed on. This would have thrown out approximately 13% of all Senate votes at the 2013 election, and seems unnecessary if group voting tickets are abolished.

The inquiry was definitely worth watching. You can watch the first half and the second half of the day on Parlview, and you can even cut and download high-res video of any section of the proceedings.

While the Nationals, Labor, Liberal and Greens presentations are certainly worth watching, the most fascinating came over the phone from Liberal Democratic Party senator-elect David Leyonhjelm. Senator-elect Leyonhjelm explained the strange multi-party structure of the LDP and its allies in the Outdoor Recreation Party and the Smokers Rights Party.

In his testimony, Leyonhjelm described preferences consultant Glenn Druery as a “bastard”, said they had not preferenced the Shooters and Fishers in 2010 “to teach [them] a lesson”, and openly admitted that he would have set up 20 separate political parties, if only he had the time. I’d go take a look. Leyonhjelm was the last witness of the day.

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  1. I made a submission to this committee under my name. It was more about a level playing field for all candidates and the removal of public funding of some candidates after an election. The committee recommendations will be designed to further entrench the major parties though.

  2. My submission (No. 113) recommends party-endorsed candidates be required to have nominators in the state or electorate they are contesting, though I suggested 20 for the House of Reps and 50 for the Senate, on the basis that the party endorsement probably justifies some discount from the numbers required for independents, but either way I agree. (Not that I would expect my submission to carry much weight)

    I also raised the concern that increasing party membership numbers required for registration would disadvantage parties based in the smaller states and territories. I suggested that consideration could be given to some form of state-by-state registration similar to what the Liberals seem to be suggesting, but honestly I also am not sure how that would work. I suggested that the best approach re reigstration numbers would be to require the members being used for registration to sign specific declaration forms, as is the case in NSW, and that this would be a sufficient extra check on frivolous or dodgy registrations that increasing the numbers required was less important.

  3. That ignores the fact that the Greens have been pushing the abolition of GVTs for a decade, and until now the majors have opposed it.

    The current system is broken, and the abolition of group voting tickets is broadly supported by experts.

  4. I believe that optional preferential voting will make the Labor Party and the Greens closer allies. This is to avoid “wasting” votes.

    Effectively we will end up with a two-party system. We have 57 political parties. Most of the parties will not have their views represented by either the Coalition parties or by a Labor-Green alliance.

  5. A two party system that is a worry. It works really well in the USA (ha, ha) does not it provided you have billions to finance the two party campaigns.

  6. I agree with most of you. Any changes are like to benefit the big two most. They don’t want to have to deal with voters having alternatives.

    I know nobody likes to have to deal with a senate form with 92 boxes to tick, but I think if all the senate were independants, the senate would really become a ‘house of review’. It wouldn’t speed up the process, but it might make the final legislation something that the majority of Australians were able to agree with.

  7. Another hearing today heard evidence from the HEMP Party, Sex Party and Glenn Druery. The recording isn’t up online yet.

    I mssed the first two but Druery was asked a range of questions about the Minor Parties Alliance and what he was paid for and by whom. He siad he was only paid to negotiate preferences by two parties in 2013, but there were others who paid him for ‘private tutorials’ on preferencing. He denied being personally involved in setting up any of the recently formed parties, but said that some had approached him for advice as they were starting out, others later on after they were established. He was asked specifically about what contact he had with the Motoring Enthusiast Party, and said that he hadn’t had anything to do with them until later in the piece when they approached him. He was also asked about any involvement he had with 3 other parties – Voluntary Euthanasia, Stop CSG and the Single Parents Party, and said that he had no contact with them until after they were formed and became involved in the Alliance.

    Although he unsurprisingly opposed the introduction of OPV, he did support tighter party registration requirements.

    Again more interesting testimony.

  8. The chairman of this committee was just on TV talking about how they have further entrenched the two party dictatorship. Anyhow at least Michael Krogers political whore has got the boot from the Senate in Victoria.

  9. The proposals will return effective allocation of preferences to the voters – not hidden away in back room deals.

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