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.
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.