Electoral Reform Green Paper released


The federal government today released its second Electoral Reform Green Paper, following on from a Green Paper dealing with election funding released in December 2008.

The document is a comprehensive examination of all issues around Australian elections, blowing out to 260 pages in total.  Each chapter includes a section on areas for potential change, and in these areas the paper canvasses a mind-boggling range of options in terms of changing our electoral system and electoral practices. The mainstream media coverage has largely focused on issues like fixed four-year terms and lowering the voting age to 16, but the paper also covers issues such as:

  • Introducing proportional representation in the House of Representatives, either through Hare-Clark or a list system.
  • Creating special electorates for expatriates or indigenous Australians
  • Requiring the registration of how-to-vote cards
  • Regulating internal party processes such as preselections to ensure internal democracy
  • Introducing optional preferential voting
  • Reforming enrolment systems and many elements of AEC processes
  • Abolishing compulsory voting (11.71)
  • Allowing permanent residents to vote
  • Disenfranchising the 157,000 British subjects who are currently enrolled without Australian citizenship

It’s well worth a read, if only for learning a lot more about how elections work in Australia. It’s fair to say that the paper brings up many options that are politically unpalatable and very unlikely, but it is a fascinating read.

Submissions can be made up to 27 November, while they will also have an online discussion forum from the 9th to the 13th November to allow interested persons to discuss the paper online.

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  1. Interesting, I’ll have a read of it later. Sounds very comprehensive. Perhaps I’m being too cynical, but to me such comprehensiveness suggests that few if any changes will actually come out of it.

    What’s your reading of the situation Ben, what issues, if any, do you think the present government might try to move on? The last one you’ve listed perhaps, as there’s been some talk about that over recent months? (although I think letting permanent residents vote would be a better approach)

  2. Out of all of the proposals listed in the OP the only ones I am close to supporting are registration of how to vote cards, electoral roll/enrolment reform and permanent resident voting.

    The rest are foolish or impractical. I don’t see many other than how to vote card registration/enrolment reform coming to fruition.

  3. You’re right Ben, it’s a great read for people wanting to learn about our electoral process. I even learned that I fraudulently enrolled at my current address last year as I didn’t observe the one month waiting period before changing my enrolment – hah, now I see it on the enrolment form, who reads all that, especially when you think you know it all anyway! Dear oh dear, means I voted in the wrong council election last year, oops.

    Slightly off topic, apparently Fred Nile has introduced a private members’ bill into NSW Parliament to rename the Legislative Council the ‘State Senate’. I’m ashamed to say this given who it is coming from, but I think that’d be a terrific idea as it would make it easier for the public to understand the role of the Legislative Council.

  4. Bob Brown’s statement on this could’ve done with a little more thought:

    “Senator Brown said that countries such as Indonesia and East Timor allow the vote at 17 years of age, Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua at 16 years and Iran at 15 years of age.”

    Not sure that Iran is really the democratic benchmark we’d be looking for.

  5. I’m still not convinced that abolishing compulsory voting is better than not. The arguments for abolishment seem flimsy to me (i.e. people can be stupid) and sometimes contradictory.

    Take for example this bit: “Higher numbers of informal votes resulting from protest votes […] are said to diminish the quality of the electoral process.” So informal votes diminishes the quality of the electoral process, but not voting, which has the same effect as an informal vote, does not?

    I view elections as a census of the population to gather information about people’s opinions in a broad sense. If you are going to make voting optional then by the same argument you should make other currently compulsory information gathering exercises, such as the five year census, voluntary. If elections are not about finding out about opinions of the whole population, then what are they for?

  6. This Green Paper has basically aggregated all the arguments for and against pretty much any option, not all of them are sensible.

    I support voluntary voting because it forces political parties to take more notice of their loyal base, since they need to motivate them to turn out. Plus I see turnout levels as a barometer of legitimacy in a political system. Forcing people to vote creates an illusion of legitimacy where none exists.

  7. I would agree with you Ben on voluntary voting only if there was the follwoing condition: that a Government can only be formed if more than 50% of the voting age population voted.

  8. That’s a pretty low threshold, Joel. Even the US and UK have almost always crossed that mark. I would only want voluntary voting in conjunction with proportional representation, which would give people more reason to vote. It’s not a coincidence that countries with PR have much higher turnout than countries with FPP.

  9. You’re right Ben, but I was just taking it from a principled point of view rather than an empirical one. ie I wa thinking “surely a government doesnt have legitimacy if less than half the population doesnt turn out to vote.”

    Furthermore, I was assuming a compulsory STV system. If its FPP than the condition has to be: a party must receive more than 50% of the voting age population to form government.

  10. @Ben Raue
    I don’t see how “turnout levels as a barometer of legitimacy” can be true generally. From what I gather in countries which have optional voting, when things are good and nobody seems to be complaining then the turn out drops sharply and then it becomes an issue of which party has the largest core vote not necessarily the largest community support. On the other hand, when there is a general uproar, then everyone turns up because they are generally angry and then arguably more readily open to influence (usually done by association with the “bad” thing that people are upset about). So I see turnout levels not as a measure of legitimacy, but a measure of the populations indifference to politics.

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