Group voting tickets hold on in Victoria

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Victoria looks set to continue to use group voting tickets to elect its upper house in November’s election. Victoria is the only remaining jurisdiction still using the system after Western Australia recently moved to reform their upper house.

I’ve explained at length in the past about all of the problems with group voting tickets. You can find a lot of this analysis on the Senate reform and Group voting tickets tags.

Group voting tickets prioritise parties over voters, locking in voters’ preferences and giving even very small parties a lot of power to direct preferences. This structure makes it possible for parties to roll up from a very small primary vote, gaining preferences from voters who may have never heard of them until they’re in an election-winning position. The system encourages parties to run in every region so they have preferences to swap without the need to have volunteers handing out how-to-votes to encourage voters to mark preferences as they wish.

Group voting tickets aren’t just a convenient way to express voters’ preferences. Where voters have regained control of their preferences, they show that they tend to vote for parties with similar ideological positions, and voters for minor parties tend to give a preference to a major party. Voters avoid preferencing the tiny parties who don’t have much of a presence. There isn’t an “anti-major party” voting bloc who prefer all of the minor parties over the major parties.

GVT preferences don’t flow like that – small parties tend to form alliances which push the bigger parties to the bottom of their preference order in favour of other small parties, sometimes including those with very different ideological positions.

Overall this can produce quite disproportional results. Sure, some minor parties benefit, but there is little relationship between votes and seats for those small parties. Tiny parties win seats while the larger minor parties miss out.

New South Wales abolished GVTs after the 1999 election, but we have seen a rush of reforms over the last six years. GVTs were abolished for the Senate just before the 2016 election, and South Australia abolished them shortly before the 2018 state election.

Western Australia abolished GVTs and shifted to a single state-wide electorate of 37 members after last year’s state election off just 98 above-the-line votes. This is an example of how you can create a voting system that allows small parties to win seats in proportion to their vote without encouraging back-room preference dealing.

The 2018 Victorian election produced a very disproportionate result. A small decline in the Greens vote saw them lose four of their five seats, while Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party won three seats off just two fifths of the Greens vote. Sustainable Australia and Transport Matters each won a seat off less than 1%, the same number of seats as the Greens.

While the most recent Victorian and Western Australian elections both produced very out-of-proportion outcomes, they were in very different contexts. Victorian Labor was three seats short of an upper house majority with a large and diverse crossbench, while WA Labor won a crushing landslide victory that gave them a majority. WA Labor also had to deal with a rural bias in the electoral system which gave a bias to the Liberal and National parties and made a progressive majority impossible at less lopsided elections.

We’re now just eight months away from the Victorian state election, and the Greens yesterday moved an amendment to electoral reform legislation dealing with smaller matters like ending the practice of political parties administering postal vote applications, to abolish group voting tickets. But not a single other MLC supported the position: not Labor, not the Coalition and not the other crossbenchers.

I can’t say what the genuine attitudes are to group voting tickets amongst Victorian Labor. If it’s at all similar to federal Labor in 2016, there would be some who see the advantage in electing an ideological variety of crossbenchers over a united block of Greens, but there would also be concern about alienating those crossbenchers when they have other legislation to pass, particularly with two former Labor MLCs now sitting on the crossbench.

A similar dynamic played out in 2016, when the Turnbull federal government waited until late in the parliamentary term to pass reform legislation, and then called a double dissolution to sweep out the crossbenchers elected under the old system who had opposed the reform.

The entire Victorian upper house is elected at the same time, so there’s no issue with legacy MLCs sticking around after the election, but there may be a window later this year, as the parliamentary agenda winds down, to pass reform legislation. But we’ll have to see whether Victorian Labor actually wants to reform, or would rather remain the sole state using this backwards and undemocratic system.

Victorians should be embarrassed about where their state now stands on electoral reform. Between group voting tickets and re-introducing first past the post for council elections Victoria is now unique in its position on recent electoral reforms. It’s not a good position to be.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. I am embarrassed, I was a very vocal opponent of the Local Government Changes and have been harassing MLC’s and the EMC to change the legislation, it appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

    Worse is that neither major party seems interested in improving Victoria’s democracy leaving very few options for voters, the Greens are the only party that seems interested in the reforms that are needed to improve democracy in the state however most label it as just a simple greens power grab as they stand to benefit the most and shut down debate on the matter.

    It’s pretty disappointing that the powers that are to be think the best way of exercising democracy in our state is by using archaic or broken voting methods which are unrepresentative and don’t produce better outcomes than if we just used the same voting system as every other state.

  2. In the report of the Electoral Matters Committee (EMC) inquiry into the 2018 election said a specific inquiry was needed before reforming the LC voting system (Finding 76) and recommended that such an inquiry be referred to the EMC (Recommendation 49).

    https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/emc/2018_Election/Report/EMC_59-01_Inquiry_into_the_conduct_of_2018_VIC_state_election.pdf

    The current inquiry by the EMC (In whether Victoria should participate in a National Electoral Roll platform) is due to report on the 16 of March and there is presumably still time for another EMC inquiry before the state election (remember how close to the 2016 Commonwealth election Senate ATL reform was due to the need for crossbench micros` votes) and so not all hope is lost quite yet.

    https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/emc/article/4763

  3. Where can I find an explanation of how this actually works? How did group voting tickets help elect an MLC with only 22K votes. Reform seems reasonable but it would help if I understood how the current system works.

  4. Tom, the quick version is this – group voting tickets allow minor parties to direct their votes to each other, even when their ideologies don’t match well, under the logic of “more minor parties means minor parties in general get more power”. Each time one of the minor parties gets knocked out, preferences flow to other minor parties (and unless you vote every single number below the line, your preferences will flow according to one of the Group Voting Tickets that are chosen by the party). If one minor party can get a high position on all of the other minor parties’ GVTs, then they can accumulate a LOT of votes. They just need to stay out of last place on each count.

    You can see it in the description in the North Eastern Metro region guide Ben linked to – ALA votes went to TMP, then Aussie Battlers votes went to TMP, then Health Australia votes went to TMP, then Sustainable Australia votes went to TMP, then Shooters went to TMP, then DLP went to TMP, DHJ went to TMP, and that put TMP into second place with almost half a quota. This, despite starting this phase with 0.041 quotas.

  5. Group voting is just a travesty of democracy especially when we two MLCs elected on less than 1% of the vote and another in the 1% range. I think Daniel Andrews likes to have them around – except the Lib Dems – because he is not dependent on the Greens and can always hold the threat of removing group voting from them. The Somyurek enquiry showed that MLCs basically don’t have enough to do and staff that even less to do. With the budget needing major repair cutting upper house staffers would be a good place to start. Upper house members in Victoria – with a few exceptions like Fiona Patten – are just invisible. And after all the Somyurek shenanigans, being invisible might be good for their image.

  6. https://www.tallyroom.com.au/45763?replytocom=764767#comment-764767

    Somyurek was elected from a very hard to loose ticket position he gained through his preselection. MLCs likely or certain to get more marginal ticket positions (including most to all non-ALP/non-Coalition MLCs) are better incentivised to spend their own and staffer time doing constituency work (particularly in seats their party does not hold and/or covering for their party`s busy Legislative Assembly front benchers).

    Backbench parliamentarians are hardly drowning in staffers, I believe they get 2 each, and MLCs have large electorates.

  7. 1. As there is no upper limit or maximum for Senate candidates (minimum of 2) what effect does one group have in distribution of preferences should it have one or two or three more candidates than other groups?

    2. Is maximising the number of candidates the last gamification possible since the tapping of the bolt-gun to the foreheads of preference whisperers?

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