Yes, rules matter, and they need to be fixed


On Saturday, Fairfax newspapers published an op-ed from Richard Denniss, chief economist at The Australia Institute, arguing against the proposed reforms to abolish group voting tickets (GVT) and introduce optional preferential voting (OPV) for Senate elections.

Unfortunately the article gets quite a lot wrong about the current arrangements, why there is a need for change, and who is supporting the change. I have written about group voting ticket reform a number of times recently (see this and this).

I wanted to specifically address a number of the claims Denniss makes in his op-ed. I’m going to respond to a number of the things he says, below the fold. There’s a lot to say. If you want a high-level summary of why reform is necessary, check out my two links above, or this piece from Antony Green.

Denniss correctly states that the process of deciding on our voting system is very serious, and it’s for this reason that reform is desperately needed. The current Senate voting rules are broken, and if we care about public faith in democracy and fair election results, change is needed.

“If we are to do something as significant as change the way our Senators are elected, it seems obvious that a Senate inquiry in which all of the current Senators, and the public at large, can have their say.”

Throughout his op-ed, Richard Denniss implies that this proposed change has been rushed without the opportunity for debate and discussion.

In fact, the federal Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has specifically held inquiries into this proposed reform, which involved submissions and public hearings, before the current proposal was recommended unanimously by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in May 2014. People interested in this issue should take a look.

“…the Abbott government and Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon are reportedly discussing a deal to make fundamental changes to the way senators are elected.”

This is misleading in terms of who supports change, and where the proposal has come from.

The proposal to abolish group voting tickets has been around for many years. The NSW Parliament abolished group voting tickets after the 1999 state election, and Bob Brown was advocating for GVT reform long before Lee Rhiannon entered the Senate.

The JSCEM proposal was unanimously supported, including from Labor, Liberal and Greens members. This report followed on from submissions and public hearings. The proposal was supported by a number of electoral experts and the administrative wings of the Liberal, Labor and Greens political parties.

Denniss also repeatedly implies that the proposal is supported only by Rhiannon, not by other parts of the Greens, but the proposal has been repeatedly endorsed by the party’s governing council, most recently in June, and formed a key part of the party’s recommendations to JSCEM hearings over a number of electoral cycles. Despite opposition from some Labor politicians such as Sam Dastyari, the proposal also has substantial support amongst Labor figures.

Beyond the parliament, a wide range of experts have endorsed the plan, including ABC elections analyst Antony Green, who rarely intervenes in policy debates.

“The US is different. In the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush and his “hanging chads” defeated Al Gore in the crucial race in Florida. While the dodgy, and privately owned, voting machine played a role, so too did the first-past-the-post system…there are changes on the table that would move us closer in that direction.”

There is a fair comparison between the 2000 presidential election and our Senate voting system, and it can be seen in the 2013 election in Western Australia. When voting systems fail, public faith in democracy is damaged and unfair election results ensue, but Denniss has taken the wrong lesson from Florida in 2000.

There is no comparison between ‘first past the post’ (where voters can only cast a vote for one candidate) and ‘optional preferential voting’ (where voters can cast a preferential vote for as many candidates as they wish). Green voters in Florida in 2000 had to face a choice between casting a vote for their preferred candidate (Nader) or for the candidate who had a chance of winning (Gore). Under OPV, voters have the choice to do both. Sure, sometimes voters will choose not to exercise a preference and ‘exhaust’ their vote, but the important difference is that the voter has the choice.

Electoral expert Peter Brent, in response to Denniss’ invocation of Bush v Gore, pointed out that Gore would’ve been elected President under an OPV system. Only a tiny proportion of Nader voters would’ve needed to exercise a preference for Gore to push him ahead of Bush.

In a lot of ways, the WA Senate election failure was Australia’s own Bush v Gore – a voting system failed to produce a result, at a high cost for the credibility of our electoral institutions.

This election failure was in large part due to the group voting ticket system which Denniss defends. The GVT system tends to produce a lot of possible points in a count where a very small number of votes separate candidates, and the exact order of elimination can produce very different results – it was this process which led to the ridiculous 14-vote gap between two candidates, neither of whom could be elected, which would have decided two Senate seats. Without this tiny gap, the subsequent recount, which pushed the AEC to breaking point, would have never been required.

These kinds of abnormalities don’t happen when voters individually choose their vote, because voters don’t act in a monolithic way, unlike parties exercising complete control over preferences.

This problem hasn’t yet been fixed, and if we go on using the GVT system, this problem will happen again, likely in bigger states, and will serve a harsh blow to the faith of Australian voters in our democracy.

“The apparent impetus for this most unlikely of political allegiances is the result of the 2013 Senate election…Such results have led to widely held view that there is ‘something wrong’ with our voting system and that we “need to do something”.”

Yes, the immediate cause of the current reform process is the 2013 Senate election, but not for the reasons Denniss suggests, and the proposed reforms are not new ideas.

The proposals have been pushed forward by the Greens and non-partisan experts for many years, and already legislated in NSW in 1999. The JSCEM proposal isn’t motivated by a desire to “do something”, but to take a specific action which has been called for for many years.

It is to the shame of the Coalition and Labor Party that, until 2014, these parties continued to support the dodgy GVT system. We should be encouraged that they have finally come around to support the proposal, and not use their support to cast aspersions on an idea that originated outside the Parliament.

“There is no perfect way to elect representatives in a democracy.”

That is true, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t improve our current system. The proposed reforms have already been used in New South Wales for four successive state elections along with many local council elections, and they work well. This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky utopian vision.

“…it’s not surprising that the vast majority of Australian voters trust parties to allocate preferences and opt to vote above the line.”

Denniss acknowledges that it is has been increasingly more difficult to cast an informed, formal vote under our current Senate system. When the only alternative is to give preferences to a large number of candidates (often over one hundred), many of whom are completely unknown, with a high risk of making your vote informal, it’s not surprising that voters choose to vote ‘1’ above the line.

The fact that voters choose to vote above-the-line is not evidence of ‘trust’, it’s evidence of a lack of options. There is a lot of evidence that voters do not trust their politicians, and engagement with political parties is in the gutter. GVTs exist for convenience, not for trust.

“The “problem” that the Liberals and Rhiannon seem determined to solve is that of senators with very low primary votes being elected on the basis of preference flows from other parties.”

Again, Denniss misinterprets what problem the reform is aiming to solve. The problem is not senators being elected with “very low primary votes” – under the NSW system, an Animal Justice Party candidate was elected off 1.8% of the primary vote. Importantly, he was elected on preferences from voters who actually marked those preferences themselves.

The problem is candidates being elected with very low primary votes on the basis of preferences from voters who don’t understand where their vote is going, and from parties with completely different political principles. The GVT system creates a “preference lottery” which encourages a bunch of parties with completely different political principles to throw all their votes into a single pot in the hope that they’ll emerge on the top of the pile.

It also isn’t fair to a lot of other small parties who poll a lot more votes than candidates like Ricky Muir, but don’t get anyone elected thanks to arbitrary preference flows. Sure, it will become harder for very small parties to win without group voting tickets, but they can win if they win over more voters and actively communicate with their voters about how they would like them to exercise preferences.

The system also allows major parties to direct their preferences in ways that don’t reflect the principles of the voters. The ALP elected Steven Fielding to the Senate in 2004, and the Democratic Labor Party to the Victorian Legislative Council in 2006 – based on a preference flow that would have never happened if Labor voters had filled out their preferences themselves. The first example of preference corralling took place in 1984, when the major parties swapped preferences to lock out the Nuclear Disarmament Party’s Peter Garrett.

“…it is worth highlighting that there has been little concern about the very small number of votes required to elect major party senators. A whole 749 people in all of NSW put a [1] next to the Coalition’s John Williams. Despite coming in 20th in primary votes, he took one of the six seats on offer.”

As stated above, the current voting system strongly discourages voters from casting votes for individual candidates, in favour of voting for a party. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of votes are cast for lead candidates, and subsequent candidates are elected on their preferences. The important point is that voters who cast a ‘1’ for the Liberal/National ticket wouldn’t be surprised that their votes flowed to John Williams, who was #2 on that ticket.

If you want to argue for votes to be cast for individual candidates, not parties, then go for it. I am a fan of the Robson Rotation system in ACT and Tasmania, which involves even less trust in political parties, by getting rid of above-the-line voting entirely and randomising the order of candidates within a party column. But that’s a different argument.

“There are other options. David Leyonhjelm has supported a call by the respected psephologist​, Malcolm Mackerras for optional preferential voting for those voting below the line.”

This is actually part of the proposed reforms, but it isn’t enough on its own.

“And both yours truly, and Professor George Williams have separately argued for a simple threshold test to be added to the current system in which the existing above and below the line system is maintained but only a candidate who receives more than 2 or 4 per cent of the vote can ever be elected.”

This would actually be the worst of both worlds, and justify the criticisms that have been made of Senate reform – it would significantly tilt the playing field in favour of big parties while still allowing them to control their preferences and use them to manipulate results.

We’ve never had an arbitrary threshold in Australian federal elections, for a good reason. While we have quotas for Senate elections, it’s always possible to reach this point with the help of preferences. But under a 4% threshold, a candidate polling 3.99% would be knocked out, while a candidate with 4.01% could be elected, regardless of preferences.

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  1. Ben,

    There are undoubtedly many reasons or explanations why Bush won in 2000.

    It’s important to remember Gore won the popular vote even with Nader and first past the post voting.
    It was the electoral college system that resulted in votes cast in Florida being worth more than elsewhere. There are similar issues in Australia, but they have nothing to do with Senate preferences

  2. Andrew,

    I only reference Bush v Gore because Denniss argues that Senate reform is moving Australia towards that, in which he’s presumably referring to the first-past-the-post element, and implying that introducing OPV would move Australia towards FPTP, which is false.

  3. Thanks Ben for your rebuttal to a seemingly silly article from Denniss who as you pointed out missed a few of the basic details at play in the proposed reforms. Perhaps he was a little distracted by his own partisans pursuits?

    I take the point from both of you regarding the importance of the strategic detail pertaining to how votes are counted, or rather, aggregated. The perfect resolution of this conundrum is however an inherently partisan undertaking.

    What is not, on the other hand, is the imperative that someone actually votes for the candidate(s) that they are under the impression they are voting for.

    Now I will admit that there are certain aspirational parliamentary representatives that I am glad to see excluded from office by virtue of the current electoral manifestation, but we should not allow even the battle of ideas (or defense of mere common decency as the case may be) to be dependent on an initial deception of our fellows.

    Sure the GVT flows are made available to those accustomed to trawling the basement of the local council offices, or these fine forums in this modern day, but it is a long bow to draw to argue that this is sufficient for people voting to be making informed (let alone consensual) decisions about their political representation.

    I can tell you that I spoke to a good few people prior to the Victorian state election last year who were excited they had the chance to vote Tony Abbott out of office, did not know who either of the candidates for premier were or that any of the micro parties now in the Legislative Council even existed – though many of them will have inadvertently voted for them (also not knowing that you could vote for just 5 candidates below the line)!

    Not all conversations allow one the space to explain the complex workings of and political horsetrading surrounding group preferences.

    Why is formality such a big deal at all [Qualifiers: at least below the line and in so far as a ballot had at least and only one 1 in a box. After that, if there is a 2 in another box then it counts, if there are two boxes with 2’s then it doesn’t … and so on until the sequence is broken]?
    (I admit I am unaware of potential problems caused by everyone voting ‘formally’ below the point of the number of candidates to be elected {i.e. 5 in Vic – 6 in the Senate}. If there is good reasoning then limit it at whatever that number that is. What is this reasoning by the way?)

    Why is this so hard? I am under the impression (perhaps falsely) that this state of affairs came to pass in Victoria without any formal change but only through a shift in considering what is ‘formal’, i.e. a slight shift in counting practice. Is this correct? What was the process? How hard is it to do at least this at a federal level?

    Failing that OPV above the line is a no brainer.

    Limiting folks from entering the electoral race to those who have the $ to play with or a large number of friends at the outset are the worst ‘solutions’ to our electoral quagmire. Followed by the threshold of first preference mechanism which, as I think you may have mentioned also, is as well an affront to the aspiration of preferential voting by way of discouraging

    Now that I’ve gone to the trouble I must throw this in: (notwithstanding that voters/candidates should have a fair presentation/view in terms of ballot paper appearance) in the spirit of fostering diversity and active participation in political life, I say bugger the concerns about the inconvenience of a ‘table-cloth’ ballot paper Mr G.!

    What is more important is the access to and control over our political lives which, whatever shape this takes, if we are to have this current representative model and not a more participatory system, is not possible without free and informed consent!

    Group voting tickets as they currently function do not in essence allow for free and informed proportional representation for most people living in Australia.

  4. ***parargraph 11 above, insert after “discouraging”: “people from voting for their preferred candidates if that candidate is not likely to be in first or second place and/or likely to be less than the threshold for fear of losing the influence of their vote completely. Even serious and sensible candidates (or to put it another way: serious and sensible citizens who aspire to take an active role in representative parliamentary democracy) can start out with small first preference vote shares.”

  5. The American situation is a distraction. The American Founding fathers rejected democracy in favor of a republic.

    I disagree with Ben hat the Senate voting system IS Broken. The Senate process results in a genuine reflection on the views of the electorate,

    The polling organizations break the vote down into 4 groupings, Lib, Lab, Green and Other. All of the attacks on the unfairness of results relating to Others. What the current Senate system does is aggregate the Senate votes in the same way as Prime Ministers with a minute percentage of the votes aggregate the votes of others into a majority.

    In the case of the current Prime Minister he gained 54 388 Votes in his seat Katter’s Australian Party got 76 918 Votes in the Queensland Senate election. Abbott got elected but there is no KAP Senator.

    In 2010 Prime Minister Julia Gillard got less votes than John Madigan the DLP Senator.

    The problem is that the votes of Others are split. When you take into account KAP, DLP, PUP, FF, Christian Democrats have a lot in common.

    The moves to do away with the Senate Voting system is nothing more than a LIb/Lab conspiracy to ensure that they stay in power.

    Andrew Jackson

  6. Andrew jackson fails to engage with the substantive issues related to reform which have to do with voters having a chance to properly record their preferences without them being hijacked by people doing obscure deals in backrooms. As Anthony Green has demonstrated on the evidence of the NSw Upper House the changes will not prevent smaller parties from gaining representation but will advantage those parties who actually attract votes in their own right rather than depending upon preference deals.

  7. Andrew,

    The Senate system is very much broken – we saw that in WA in 2013.

    It’s pretty funny to call something a “Lib/Lab conspiracy” when people have been campaigning for it for 15 years, and those people aren’t Liberal or Labor supporters, let alone MPs. The fact that the major parties have now come on board does not change the principles of the argument.

    You can’t just aggregate the ‘others’ vote and treat it as a single block. These are distinct political parties with distinct agendas, and their voters are unlikely to want to preference each other over all of the major parties.

    You can’t compare the block of minor parties, all with distinct identities and political agendas, swapping preferences in the dark with voters not having an easy option to cast their preferences in a different way, to a political party with the same identity. Voters voting for the Coalition or Labor knew they were voting for Abbott or Gillard/Rudd.

  8. Gee that audio gets off to an astoundingly wrong start by saying the Senate proposal is to introduce the optional voting system that produced the 2015 hung Queensland parliament. Gobsmackingly wrong.

    Ignoring that error, to say optional preferential voting was responsible for the producing the current hung Queensland Parliament overlooks that compulsory preferential voting produced the 2010 hung Federal parliament and first past the post produced the 2010 hung UK parliament, and that the current system hardly ever produces a majority. Hung parliaments are produced by close election results and can occur under all electoral systems.

    Opinions are fine but they have to be based on at least an approximation of correct facts.

  9. Wow, I hadn’t bothered listening to that until now – this person seems to have no idea what this reform actually is, and seems to think the proposal is to abolish PR?

  10. Anyone like to guess how many parties will be contesting the next election if there is no reform? I predict if this dies every interest group will be rushing out to register their own ‘party’ so they can have a seat at the bargaining table, because if other interest groups do, then yours needs to as well or it won’t have influence. And various forces will probably go out and register swags of front parties for harvesting purposes. I’m sure this would really really help ‘genuine’ minority voices be heard.

  11. Anthony Green…. The announcer may have got it wrong on the hung parliament but he wasnt too far wrong. The loss of government by the LNP was due to the lack of preferences received by the LNP. Optional preferential does cause a lot of votes to go dead. Had the Qld election been held with compulsory Preferential voting the LNP would have won by about 6-7 seats. OPV is never the answer as it has a habit of reverting to first past the post. In a senate situation OPV would do nothing more than favour the two majors with a massive amount of votes going dead. That much is certain.

  12. Bem Raue if you have any experience with OPV you would know it is encouraged by majors as a first past the post of which it quickly reverts. FPP is the last thing we need in this country and is the cause of a lot of dead votes. The other points were very valid and lets face it the AEC has done nothing in that area.

  13. The people on that radio interview have much deeper lack of understanding than just on that initial confusion.

    Throughout, they work on the understanding that using OPV would eliminate small parties – they go so far as saying that it would end the Greens having representation. Whereas actually using OPV with proportional representation would still allow small parties to win, just not tiny microparties.

    Actually, I would argue that the LNP would’ve had a harder time in Queensland under compulsory preferential voting – it was the LNP strongly arguing against voters exercising their preferences, while Labor, the Greens and other progressive groups were arguing in favour of voters preferencing.

    We don’t really know what impact vote exhaustion would have on the Senate, but I think it could just as easily help small parties on the verge of getting elected. If there’s a lot of exhaustion and the last seat is decided on 8% or 10%, it’s a lot easier to imagine a small party on 4-5% getting there on preferences, while most major party candidates will need to gain a full quota.

  14. Actually Tony, despite your condescension I have a lot of experience with OPV, having lived in NSW my whole life.

    The ALP was actually working hard to encourage voters to preference in Queensland earlier this year, although I will acknowledge that in the past they have, like the LNP, encouraged voters to exhaust preferences.

    Exhausting preferences will at various times assist one side or the other, but by definition when one side is favoured by exhaustion, the other side is hurt by it, so the idea that both major parties benefit is ridiculous. At least that’s what I think you’re trying to say when you incoherently say “it is encouraged by majors as a first past the post of which it quickly reverts”.

    OPV is totally different to first past the post. Under FPTP, voters don’t have the option to exercise preferences – under OPV, voters do. Choosing to not exercise a right is fundamentally different to not having that right available to you at all.

  15. Actually Tony, Labor won nine seats from second place on preferences, highly unusual under optional preferential voting. Labor had to overcome optional preferential voting to win and it was the strong flows of preferences that allowed Labor to win. The optional preferences of every party favoured Labor as I outlined here

    The only way you can say the LNP would have won under full preferences would be to argue that the exhausted preferences would have gone strongly to the LNP. The preference flows at the state election were stronger to Labor than at the 2013 Federal election in Queensland, but probably in line with the unpopularity of the Newman government revealed by the shifts in first preferences.

    The LNP did everything it could to try and boost the exhausted preferences of third parties to shore up its position, but instead there was a surge in the number of people filling in preferences and an even bigger surge directing them to Labor.

    Tony Abbott would have won the 2010 Federal election had it been conducted under optional preferential voting. Instead, full preferential voting produced a hung parliament. Hung Parliaments are produced by close results and not necessarily produced by the electoral system.

    One in ten Queensland electorates in 2015 changed the first preference winner, so to say optional preferential voting reverts to first past the post is just wrong. Had the 2015 election been like first past the post, the LNP would have won an extra nine seats.

  16. Hello Ben (and/or Antony if he can forgive my dig re: table cloths [… for-which I’ll attempt to curry some forgiveness by thanking him for the very entertaining burst on the 2014 Vic election broadcast when he stated something to the effect that ~”it would be the last election to be held with GVT’s controlled by party deals” – hope your right by the way]), wondering if you had time for any comment on the following from my post above:

    “Why is formality such a big deal at all [Qualifiers: at least below the line and in so far as a ballot had at least and only one 1 in a box. After that, if there is a 2 in another box then it counts, if there are two boxes with 2’s then it doesn’t … and so on until the sequence is broken]?

    (I admit I am unaware of potential problems caused by everyone voting ‘formally’ below the point of the number of candidates to be elected {i.e. 5 in Vic – 6 in the Senate}. If there is good reasoning then limit it at whatever that number that is. What is this reasoning by the way?)

    Why is this so hard? I am under the impression (perhaps falsely) that this state of affairs came to pass in Victoria without any formal change but only through a shift in considering what is ‘formal’, i.e. a slight shift in counting practice. Is this correct? What was the process? How hard is it to do at least this at a federal level?”

    Thanks for all your insights in any case.

  17. Anthony the LNP lost the Queensland election after meetings with minors whereby they refused preferences and went the one vote. (the minors agreed to adhere to their wishes and did not pass)
    The ALP responded with the Statement ” we will be repsonsible citizens and fill our tickets”
    This allowed the ALP to control the preference flow and where appropriate direct preferences to minors where they couldn’t win. This allowed the ALP to control the election and took it out of the hands of the LNP.
    Simple and straight forward. LNP members warned the LNP but they failed to listen which led to Brad Henderson very rightly falling on his own sword. In their own report they admitted that a lack of preferences, two many three way contests (by way of calling an early election) were big reasons and it was clear to all that it was not only a protest against newman but a protest against OPV. This is particularly evident in Qld with only one house.

  18. Tony this is a fair way from where we started the discussion on proposed changes to the Senate voting system. I haven’t read anything yet that deals with the substantive arguments advanced by Ben as to why the senate system needs fixing to put votes back in the hands of voters rather than leaving it to dodgy and no-transparent backroom deals.

  19. Doug Hynd your right the appetite for change in the Senate seems to have subsided and most agree to leave it as it is. I cant see any changes prior to the next election. The 2013 was a one off and not the norm.

  20. There will be some changes even if the JSCEM proposals are not proceeded with. They still have to deal with the problem of ballot paper size which means doing something about nomination. They may bring back nominators rather than central nomination for Senate elections to end the current advantage given to parties over independents, and to stop a party in one state nominating for every state. If they don’t get around to tightening the party rules I’d expect they will bump up deposits instead as it is administratively easy. I think optional preferential voting for below the line votes as in the Victorian upper house is also very likely as one reform the cross bench do support.

  21. Unfortunately I don’t think bumping up deposits will do much – it did nothing at the last election.

    It may stop some smaller parties from running if they don’t have much money, but it won’t do anything to stop wealthy dilettantes.

    I do think making it harder to run candidates in every state through nominators (or through state-based party registration, which is part of the proposal) could shift the balance in a way that makes it less of a priority to nominate a full national Senate ticket.

  22. Totally agree. INcreasing nomination fees just makes it harder for those with legitimate support and soaks up more of their campaign budgets, whilst not dissuading those who really want to game the system. Requiring nominators in each state on the other hand involves an actual demonstration of real support, which seems to me a more appropriate bar to set for getting on the ballot paper than money.

    In my submission I suggested considering re-orienting the ballot paper to list groups in rows across the ballot paper, as a potential way of making it easier to fit large numbers of candidates in, but I have no idea if that would actually work and a change like that would presumably cause a lot of confusion.

    I certainly don’t think the 2013 situation was a one-off. As recent media reports have shown, the ‘success’ of preference-harvesting schemes has encouraged different groupings of parties to look to organise their own schemes. To most small parties it is now apparent that they can’t compete unless they are part of a preference-harvesting scheme, which will encourage the creation of even more parties, etc. Not to mention the process also encourages other interest groups and organisations to also seek to get into the game with their own parties. I’m not just being cynical unfortunately i’m seeing it in the changing attitudes of people who previously supported abolishing GVTs who now see the preference game as a path to power and want to get into it. And the more it goes on, the more playing the game becomes an almost essential strategy for any new party. It’s crazy and it basically compels small parties to abandon principles, which isn’t healthy for building public trust and confidence in the political process.

  23. yeah I’d vote for a party (or at least one or two or ten thereof) that advocated on the single issue of no financial disincentives to parliamentary political participation.

    If the increased deposits is successful Antony then I will really fear for your good nature when the ballot bumps out to size A0 or even a ballot of unending reams of butcher paper with registrations from all the serious political operatives that you haven’t even heard of yet and wont even be able to see what they’re called after 8 hours of squinting filling out your full preferences below the line for parties such as (this is just a sample):

    – Free Access to Politics Party (FAPP)
    – Financially Disadvantaged Yet Politically Active (FDYPA)
    – Don’t Vote For a Billionaire (DVAB)
    – Can I Get My Parliamentary Pay Package Now Or Do I Have To Get Elected First Party (CIGMPPPNODIHTGEF)
    – Money Doesn’t By Power Party (MDBPP)
    – The (Realists) Money Does Buy Power Party (TMDBPP)
    – Reds Under Your Bed (With Your Life Savings for Party Registration) Party (RUYBP)
    – Top Aussie (sponsored by Coca Cola) Blokes Party (TACCtmBP)
    – We’re Fully Legit And You’ll Get Your $500 Joining Fee Back When We Get Elected (and no this does not guarantee you a meeting with the Treasurer) Party (WFLYG$JFBWWGWP)
    – The Age Of Financially Entitled Political Representation Party ($$$)
    – The We Never Got The Balance Right Between Our Ideals and Pragmatism Party (TWNGTBRBOIAP)
    – The If You Make Us Pay To Be A Party Then You Better Pay Me To Vote Party (TIYMUPTBAPTYBPMTVP)
    – The Less Then 500 Members But The Only Ones That Advocate For Social and Environmental Justice Party (TLR5MBTOOTAFSAEJP)
    – The Egalitarianism Was So Last Century Party (TEWSLCP)
    – How About Half Price for Concession Card Holders Party (HAHPCCH)
    – Palmer United Party (PUP)
    – Clints Crazy Bargains Political Party (CCBPP)

    … and they go on and on and on, I can give you the full list if you like?

    [gee I really thought one of those would have had a good anagram but seems you really need to pay the right price to get a good communication strategy – see second last entry]

    … but seriously … OPV somewhere above or below the line please or just loosen (administratively?) the vote formality rules!

  24. anDrew, if better reforms aren’t introduced, then at the last minute a deposit increase is a last resort that the major parties would revert to. As I said, it is the worst reform.

    The ballot paper cannot get bigger, just the font size will get smaller. To produce the ballot papers in sufficient quantity in a short time, ballot papers cannot be wider than one metre. To print larger you have to go to plan or map printing which can be bigger but cannot produce the volume.

  25. Actually andRew I think there’s a limit on the length of party names so you may not be able to register some of those.

    I’m thinking of registering the following parties:
    – National Liberal Party (we’re particularly hoping to draw the first spot in Queensland so we can hit the jackpot)
    – Reform Senate Voting Party
    – No Preference Deals Party (actually doing lots of deals, but who cares)
    – Stop the Liberal Democrats Party
    – Australians Against Terrorism (if you don’t vote for us you’re clearly on the side of the terrorists)
    – Evidence-based Policy Party (if you don’t vote for us you’re just wrong)
    – Centre Party
    – Fantasy Progressive Opposition Party
    – Stop the Boats Coalition
    – Refugee Rights Party (swapping preferences with the previous one)
    – No Windfarm Noise
    – No Income Tax
    – Affordable Housing Party
    – Tony Abbott is Bad Movement
    – Boomers’ Rights Party
    – Free Coffee and Chocolate Party
    – Personal Vanity Project Party
    – #auspol Party

    Please contact me if you’d be willing to be the public face of one of these parties, especially the PVPP which particularly needs someone plausibly egotistical. Actually this is going to cost a fair bit so I guess I’ll have to find financial backers first.

    Now if anybody steals these names and reigsters them before I get a chance to, I’ll be pointing my finger at certain people, you know who you are, for shamelessly stealing my ideas.

  26. Increasing deposits WILL curb frivolous candidacies if they are made high enough. In NSW in 2013 there were only five Senate tickets that polled more than 2%, while 34 tickets failed to poll 1%. Deterring these frivolous candidacies would solve a major part of the problem. You could require a deposit of $1 million to nominate a Senate ticket. Tickets that polled 1% of the vote would get their deposit back. No genuine party would be affected.

  27. Adam even if you lower the threshold for refunds, which perhaps isn’t a bad idea, it’s still a burden on parties/candidates to raise the money, some will get loans easy enough but smaller ones that may be close to threshold may not. I also think we’re confusing the issues of legitimacy here. I don’t think it is illegitimate for small parties or candidates who may only get 0.1% of the vote to contest elections if they so choose, and can clear a reasonable qualification for getting on the ballot paper, which I think should be a demonstration of a minimum level of community support through nomination signatures rather than higher deposits. The question about legitimacy for me relates to parties or candidates that may be running who would otherwise not be running if the system didn’t encourage the gaming of the system. Since the potential benefits of successfully gaming the system are so great, unless you did indeed put the fees ridiculously high, vested inerests who want to game the system will find the money.

  28. re: Adam Carr (Posted July 12, 2015 at 11:41 AM)

    You have got to be joking right Adam?

    $1 million dollars to be ‘genuine’ or something more than frivolous?

    (The 1% support also suggests that you need more than ~100,000 voters to meet your genuine/non-frivolous test)

    The test of determining seriousness is neither the amount of money that you can raise nor the % of the votes that you receive.

    The need for large sums of money to get your voice heard in the political landscape that we inhabit (whether parliamentary or outside) is a direct detriment to the health of our democracy.

    This is most pertinently instantiated in the reciprocal relationship between money, established political networks and coverage (and/or control/preferential treatment) in the mainstream press.

    To not acknowledge this as a reality of our times would be a gross misrepresentation and so would love to hear your rationalisation of the alternate reality to the circularity involving money and power sketched above.

    The test of political seriousness is found in the truthfulness of ones convictions, and this applies to the political actors that we agree with as well as those we don’t. It is a separate undertaking to assess the values embodied in an actors notions and actions.

    Ahhh, right, I’ll just leave it there shall I – “Eureka”!

    (The ‘Eureka Report’ and ‘Business Spectator’, both of which for who you work are both owned by News Corporation!)

    Please accept my frivolous apologies and I will now retreat into insignificance and take my aspirations for egalitarianism, equality, social justice and common decency in this land with me.

    P.S. can you please advise us who will be the next pm and knight them accordingly as soon as possible so we can save some money and do away with these ‘elections’ (I guess we can do away with our hopes for OPV then too?) as they are just a waste of time anyway and we should just trust that those in News Corpse know what’s best for us lowly servants who if we were actually ‘genuine’ would already be rich and powerful and positively portrayed on the front page of those papers that give some (possibly even > 100,000 folks) a headache when their eyeballs so unfortunately glimpse their headlines.

    All Hail Rupert! (please forgive me – I am a true blue aussie really)

  29. Nick C: The purpose of a national election is not to provide an opportunity for every crackpot to get her or his name on a ballot paper. It is to elect a national parliament and give the country a stable and effective government. Cluttering up the ballot paper with frivolous candidates serves only to drive up the informal vote (which was as high as 12% in Senate elections before the introduction of automatic preference allocation). Groups which cannot poll 1% of the vote are not serious candidates and should not be on the ballot. Yes deterrence can also be achieved by a signature requirement, but then it would be necessary to create a laborious verification process and provide time for the collection of signatures. A deposit system is much more efficient and cannot be rorted. Any group which can expect to get 1% will have no difficulty raising or borrowing the money.

    AndRew: Tiresome sarcasm is tiresome.

  30. Backing Adam’s point, the NSW Parliament may boost its deposits and ban groups with fewer than 15 candidates after the 2015 election. There were three groups with fewer than 15 candidates and no group voting square, and another five groups with squares but no party name. Those eight columns plus the ungrouped column accounted for 112 of the 394 candidates and together they polled precisely 0.5% of the vote. Maybe it is vanity that makes people stand for election when they have zero chance of being noticed let alone elected. If so, a higher deposit limits the number of unknown and unelectable candidates with little or no support from cluttering up the ballot paper. I would prefer that non-financial means be used, but if those fail you have to come back to raising the deposit.

    There are serious problems created by having too many candidates on the ballot paper. You end up either with a ballot paper overly large in physical size or overly small in font size. Both have serious impacts on how people vote. I hold it as a critical principle of elections that voters should be able to read their ballot papers, and I view this principle as stronger than an unfettered right to nominate as a candidate.

    Beyond that, given the complexity of the counting system for Australian upper house elections, vast numbers of candidates with no chance of election imposes important organisational problems for electoral commissions in dealing with printing, distribution and data processing of enormous ballot papers. And don’t think moving to electronic voting will fix the problem of numbers interfering with voter choice.

  31. Well I agree it’s too easy to get on the NSW Legislative Council ballot paper. If I’m reading the handbook correctly you only need 15 nominators, same as for a lower house seat. That’s far too low for a state-wide election.

  32. The problem with setting an extremely high nomination fee is that there can be genuine groups who either don’t have the money at the outset or are uncertain as to whether they will cross the threshold – a genuine group who finds the money may be at risk of bankruptcy if they fall short, and it’s easy to imagine of a party that has genuine support that doesn’t have that much in their bank account to wager. It would be a serious barrier to new participants.

  33. Ben: Then they should spend some time building membership and organisation until they have sufficient credibility either to fundraise or to borrow the deposit. At the 2013 NSW Senate election there were 44 tickets plus 4 ungrouped candidates. Are there really 48 different political positions? No. Most of these tickets were complete unknowns with no visibility, no policies and no support. The votes they polled were just random scatter. There can only be two reasons for their nominations: either they were “vanity tickets” (people who just wanted to see their names on a ballot paper), or they were part of an organised effort to flood the ballot paper and push up the informal vote in the hope of lowering the Labor vote (as was done successfully in NSW in 1974, when Labor lost a seat as a result). Either way, they ought to be discouraged. Any political organisation with enough support to merit a place on a ballot ought to be able to poll 1% of the vote. Such a policy would have prevented the election of Muir and Dropulich in 2010.

    The second problem is preference-aggregating, and the way to stop that is to impose a threshold of 25% of a quota. Once the surpluses of elected candidates have been distributed, all tickets with less than 25% of a quota (3.57%) should be eliminated and their preferences distributed. That would have kept out Fielding in 2004 and Madigan in 2010. It would not have kept out Day or the three PUPs in 2013.

    The third problem is misleading party names, which is how Leyonhjelm got elected. To stop that it would be necessary to prevent any new party using the words which are the key identifiers of existing parties: the words Labor, Liberal, Nationals or Greens. That would stop the Liberal Democrats getting elected by people who mistake them for the Liberals. (I would allow the DLP to go on using Labour, since they’ve been doing it since 1955 and it would be unfair to force them to change their name now.)

    The proposed reform I’m opposed to is abolishing automatic preference allocation. This was introduced to reduce informal voting, and it has done that. People should not lose their vote because they can’t number 50 or 60 squares in the correct order. The people who would lose their votes this way are overwhelmingly Labor voters, and that’s exactly why this change is being promoted.

  34. All of those problems are solved by abolishing group voting tickets. That will reduce the number of parties running significantly.

    The JSCEM proposal is to introduce optional preferential voting, which would mean that no votes that are currently formal would become informal.

    It’s pretty outrageous to claim that the proposal to abolish the GVT rort is intended to result in Labor voters being disenfranchised, considering all of the nonpartisan people advocating for it.

  35. Why would the NSW parliament require at least 15 candidates for a group? With the big two parties that makes sense, but for smaller ones it’s overkill. There’s parties like the Shooters or CDP who reliably get one candidate elected – candidates #3 through #15 on their list are just clutter. (The only exception I know of is No Pokies in SA 2006, where their #3 John Darley ended up in parliament after Nick X went federal.)

  36. Re: Adam Carr
    The purpose of an election in a political system that aims to be a representative democracy is inescapably for citizens to elect their representatives to advocate on their behalf. This can be done efficiently or not. More importantly it can be done fairly or not. Whether this occurs depends at the outset on the ability of one’s representative being able to be elected.

    Whether the election produces a government that is stable or effective depends on the positions taken by those representatives. Stability is not a virtue for those whose government perpetuates injustice and if your government will not alleviate such vice then you do not have effective governance. Genuine advocacy of ones position can not be achieved, at the outset in a representative democracy, if you are denied the ability to elect a representative who will do this.

    If one’s chosen representative is not also the representative of more than 100,000 others, or does not have the capacity to raise 1 million dollars, as you propose, then these citizens will be denied the ability to even vote for their representative.

    This must be deemed unacceptable (or at the least interrogated as such) as it is essentially anti-democratic if our democracy aims to be representative in essence but you can’t even vote for your representative let alone have them represent you.

    If our proposals pass this test then we should ask, what is the best way of doing this assessed against various criteria such as which is the fairest, the most efficient, the most accurate and the best reflection of the theoretical (i.e. theoretically agreed upon) goal of the particular political project.

    (p.s. “Are there really 48 different political positions?” No, there are about 5 billion!)

  37. GVT v OPV:
    Adam, after jumping the first hurdle with indifference, your proposal(s) then argues for not introducing Optional Preferential Voting (by advocating for the maintenance of GVT’s above the line) on the basis that the historic change to this system decreased the rate of informal voting. My understanding is that that change achieved that end because it gave the option to not have to number every box which is potentially very confusing. This you point out, but fail to also acknowledge that OPV (whether above or below the line) does absolutely nothing to compromise that goal.

    > So there is no detriment to formality by introducing OPV as both systems require you to number at least 1 and OPV with no minimum no. limit is just as infallible is it not?

    > Knowing that the preservation of GVT’s force some people into either voting below the line where their chance of informality is greater, or by purposely spoiling the formality of their vote so as not to vote (v. preferences) for candidates that they despise, how is the maintenance of GVT’s superior to OPV on the question of formality?

    > So can someone please explain to me (or point to a reference to) what the arguments or reasons are for not allowing OPV? (Beyond the ability of parties to harvest preferences as is currently the case, are there any other reasons? Perhaps to uphold the value of ensuring your vote stays active to the end of the count implying that it is better that you vote for one of two representatives who don’t represent you then to not vote for either?).

  38. On Satire (or Sarcasm – Which I May Do Very Poorly):
    What is tiresome is to be, and notice that many Australians, are disenfranchised advocates for social and environment justice who’s participation in the political conversation is constrained by so many closed doors and ears – such as those of our powerful ‘representatives’. Satire, and sarcasm in particular, is a response that screams we’re ‘sick and tired’ of being ignored and having avoidable injustices persist in the deaf ears of ‘representatives’ (and their gatekeepers – including aspects of the media) who advocate only for already powerful and wealthy interests – and to say look, this is how silly your position looks without your spin. To propose further financial roadblocks further entrenches the right of only the wealthy to be heard – and some times the swinging voter.

    (I would hope that it would at least be understood – let alone deemed an unacceptable disenfranchisement – that the notion of borrowing 1 million dollars to even the bulk of the comparatively privileged populace is an impossible concept to grasp let alone undertake. Then again, there are some who continue to advocate for devolving to a system of tertiary education that requires the loaning of such large sums of money/shouldering of large debts to be enfranchised with education, and then have the nerve to say that this will not deter enrolments from those who do not occupy the wealthy rungs of the ladder)

    Forget my lame attempts above but do treat yourself to some of this continents finest – and often extremely sarcastic – satirists and cartoonists. Without them we would all be mad, but perhaps more than a ‘selfish rabble’ protesting in our streets.

    I do however, Adam, agree with the thrust of your point relating to similar party names that have the ability to confuse people who are intending to vote for someone else. This is a serious point that needs addressing though I would say that it is not reducible simply to the names of a party but also to a broader misunderstanding about political representatives and the political system as a whole. Something that is not helped in the long run by the simplification of political discourse, such as through reducing political communications to three word slogans. Also problematic is having political party names that do not reflect the trend of their policies.

  39. Re: Antony Green et. al. (The ‘vanity’ Proposition):
    To say that people who poll a low percent of the vote are standing merely as an act of vanity (irrespective of whether it is ‘in vein’) is simplistic and ignores the divergent political positions existent within the populace as well as the importance for people to attempt to represent themselves or their small group if they see necessary (including to not be guilty of the accusation ~“if you want politicians to do it differently then why don’t you do it yourself”).

    Thank you for reiterating your concerns over the size of the ballot paper which I also think are indeed fundamental on account of folks free and informed consent with regards the attempt to elect representatives one thinks one is voting for (despite my attempt at humour above).

    I note you mentioned the constraints of printing beyond 1 metre wide and that having printouts bigger than this may be just as unacceptable as small font.

    > Do you think, as Ben suggests, that OPV would work to reduce the number of candidates and thus make the fall back measures unnecessary?
    > Do you consider that alternative ballot design – employing the forever refined craft of today’s web/graphic designers – could reduce the confusion? (its the obvious suggestions which has probably been suggested a million times)
    > Do you know of other potential solutions that have been deemed impractical?

    Re: Bird of Paradise
    I think (if I remember correctly) that the NSW constitution states that ballot formality depends on that specific minimum number of squares been filled out. Hence, for OPV above the line, for a ballot to be formal if you only place a 1 in one box requires that box to essentially be 15 (if it is that number) boxes filled out. It may have been possible to change to OPV without changing the constitution.

    > Can someone advise if the federal constitution is similarly prescriptive? – haven’t heard so.

  40. The NSW constitution requires 15 preferences for a valid LC vote, hence 15 candidates are required for a group voting ticket square. The problem is created by putting too much detail on the electoral system in the constitution. It can only be amended by referendum.

    The Australian constitution says very little about the electoral system. Both preferential voting and proportional representation can be replaced by simply changing the electoral act.

  41. andDrew, at least three of the unnamed groups on the NSW LC ballot paper did not campaign. The two groups that nominated only two candidates got precisely 113 vote each out of an electorate of four million. To get on the Senate ballot paper both of those groups would have required 200 nominators.

  42. What a lot of voters don’t realise is that you can cast a formal vote both above AND below the line (the AEC don’t publicise this fact because officially you’re only supposed to do one or the other). Your below the line vote is considered first and if it is deemed informal your above the line vote is counted instead. Under the current system, voters voting below the line who are afraid of their vote being informal should be encouraged to cast a vote above the line as insurance.

  43. The 15-candidate group rule is dumb but unfortunately necessary because of the constitution.

    As long as we have the option of candidates running as ungrouped, I think it’s reasonable to reserve column space for groups who can receive ATL votes.

  44. The 2013 Senate election was unique and different from any I had ever worked in or around. The main thing was knows fraudulent parties (ID parties with same executive and even same registered officer) and a heap of other discrepancies. . The current system works but the AEC should require more then the 500 members. IE . Existence of executive meetings and or branch meetings held in the state where they are standing candidates. The party should know where it stands on a host of issues. Even PUP to this day really doesn’t have a position on anything. Records etc of this kind would allow the AEC to check their status etc and ensure that here is a party that is running and following correct party protocol. The increase in rulings and the entry of the very unpopular OPV will just lead to more apathy and loss of interest in the system. We all love and work in the political sphere whether paid or voluntary. We should being doing all we can to promote involvement in politics. I don’t agree with many parties on a host of issues but don’t begrudge them the right to be there and be represented. By adding more expense and regulations on the real minor and micro parties we are just removing interest in the process and polarizing our electoral process. I have been involved in a couple of minor parties and the involvement and activity in the party does not necessarily relate to size. Nick Xenophon would probably not be in the senate today had some of these changes been enacted. We should be advising any enquiry constructive options and not those that just lay all the burden and cost on emerging or existing micro parties that do and have for many years held a position that is as strong today as when they started.

  45. Tony, you keep saying the AEC should do this or that. They don’t have the power. David Leyonhjelm being the registered officer of two parties was legal and there is nothing the AEC can do to stop it unless the government and parliament change the law. The same applies to all your comments about what the AEC should be checking to validate a party. The Electoral Act does not give the AEC the power to do that checking. The only test it is allowed to do is write to a sample of party members and verify that they are members. The act should be toughened up in line with the tougher party regulations that apply under state law. That includes the minimum number of members, which again is a requirement of the Act, not of the AEC. Toughening up the rules should also include removing the right of MPs and Senators to register parties without the need to have members of the party.

  46. RE: Tony Zegenhagen, Posted July 13, 2015 at 12:41 PM
    “The increase in rulings and the entry of the very unpopular OPV will just lead to more apathy and loss of interest in the system.”

    I might just re put these questions:

    > Is it true that there is no detriment to formality by introducing OPV as both systems require you to number at least 1 and OPV with no minimum no. limit is just as infallible?

    > Knowing that the preservation of GVT’s force some people into either voting below the line where their chance of informality is greater, or by purposely spoiling the formality of their vote so as not to vote (v. preferences) for candidates that they despise, how is the maintenance of GVT’s superior to OPV on the question of formality?

    > So can someone please explain to me (or point to a reference to) what the arguments or reasons are for not allowing OPV? (Beyond the ability of parties to harvest preferences as is currently the case, are there any other reasons? Perhaps to uphold the value of ensuring your vote stays active to the end of the count implying that it is better that you vote for one of two representatives who don’t represent you then to not vote for either?).

    > Why would OPV be unpopular?

    And I might just re-quote this so we don’t cover old ground:

    “OPV is totally different to first past the post. Under FPTP, voters don’t have the option to exercise preferences – under OPV, voters do. Choosing to not exercise a right is fundamentally different to not having that right available to you at all.” (Ben Raue Posted July 9, 2015 at 4:50 PM)

  47. I don’t think OPV is unpopular. I don’t know if there’s any research, but my experience from talking to voters without much interest or expertise in voting system is that they don’t understand why they are forced to number every box.

    Andrew, I’m not 100% sure what you’re asking in your first question but I think you are right. OPV won’t affect formality, since any vote that is currently formal would remain formal, and votes that are currently informal would become formal. Adam’s argument seems to only stand if you assume that GVTs were abolished while maintaining compulsory preferential voting.

    The main argument against OPV (as opposed to CPV, putting aside questions of group voting tickets) is that OPV will result in some voters’ votes exhausting, and that this is bad, and we should ensure all votes should remain in the count.

    I don’t think any of us think exhausting votes is good, but those who support OPV (including myself) would argue:
    (a) making votes informal because they don’t number all the boxes is a greater evil than votes exhausting.
    (b) it’s up to the voter if they choose not to exercise all of their preferences.
    (c) we shouldn’t force voters to make up preferences where they genuinely don’t have a preference between two parties.
    (d) as ballots get bigger, it gets harder and harder to cast a formal vote under CPV.

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