minor parties

Benny on electoral reform

The latest Electoral Reform Green Paper, Strengthening Australia’s Democracy (available from http://www.pmc.gov.au/consultation/elect_reform/strengthening_democracy/index.cfm ), was recently released. While it covers an issue that has been jumped all over recently by mainstream media, that of lowering the voting age, which while somewhat interesting, it also covers issues which I think are far more discussion worthy.*

I love talking about electoral reform. It is one of my favourite topics. I could talk about this paper a lot.

For today, sections 5.42 to 5.62 discuss the voting system used in the house of representatives. Currently, the house of representatives uses a preferential voting system. In effect, this means you can choose to give each candidate a number, and if for some unknown reason you give your first preference to a Family First candidate, throwing your vote away, you get an automatic reprieve and your vote is reallocated to your second preference. This process of preference skipping is repeated until a preference for a sensible party (or occasionally the greens) is reached.

In all seriousness though, the preferential system is a mostly sound system. The main problem from most perspectives is preferential systems always favour majority groups. A candidate needs to be the first to reach 50% of votes, via an initial majority or through preferences. For example, in Queensland, in each electorate, the candidate who gets to 50% first will win. Thus, as one of the main parties will generally get to 50% on preferences first in each electorate, minority parties will generally fail. Thus, even if 10% of Queenslanders support the anti-environment party and everyone else puts them as last preference, if those who support are roughly distributed evenly across all electorates, they won’t win a thing. Thus, sizeable minorities that otherwise do not form the majority views in any electorate will have no representation in the lower house.

Alternatively, the Senate has a proportional system. A fantastic article on how our proportional voting system for the Senate works can be found here : http://www.abc.net.au/elections/federal/2004/guide/senatevotingsystem.htm . Or if you are dull like me, go read (the incredibly wordy and complex) section 273 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. The way our proportional quota vote counting system works is very interesting, and I don’t think too many people in Australia have much idea how the Senate is actually elected.

So, back to the new green paper. One of the opportunities it outlines is for the House of Representatives to shift to a form of proportional representation, with divisions at the state or sub-state level. The green paper even discusses many of the arguments for and against the idea (it is quite the paper). This change has the potential to change the political landscape. It also raises some interesting issues for how the ballots will be developed (i.e. will the option remain of voting “above the line” for a single political party, thus accepting the party’s preference order for candidates).

I am still making my way through this paper (at 260 pages it is quite a study). And there have already been a few parts of it I have been disappointed with (the discussion of current proportional vote counting in the paper is poor). But this thing provides topic fodder for months.

*Utilising Nathan’s asterix technique, and noting my prior post, lowering the voting age is pulp news. Further, a 16 year old who wants to sail around the world is not news, and everytime the State Premier/Deputy Premier etc has a press interview, they should not be asked their opinion on said teenager sailing around the world, and their comment is not news.

Election day

The countdown is over. We voted this morning. Robyn told me afterwards that she’d voted for Family First. It was a funny joke. We laughed. 

Here’s why I don’t vote for Family First…

  1. While I appreciate that Family First put the family first and often that means supporting things that are good for Christians and Christianity – I think their very presence dilutes the conservative vote and is counterproductive for Christians looking to vote on their issues. 
  2. I don’t like the idea of giving politicians a mandate to turn Australia into anything other than the democratic system we have now – theocracies are great provided you’re a believer. Which I am. But they don’t do a good job of protecting minorities or other interests. I’d rather a candidate sympathetic to all than a candidate only sympathetic to me. 
  3. It’s not the state’s job to convert people to Christianity – it’s ours. Separation of church and state is a protection for the church too…
  4. Better the devil you know – I know that the LNP and the ALP will act in a predictable manner based on their convictions. The same can not be said for Family First members. There have been too many loose cannon loonies running for the party for them to have much credibility as a united voice. The idea of a united Christian voice is nice in theory – but you only have to look at the Uniting Church to see it in practice. 
  5. It’s a wasted vote. Unless we’re voting for a Federal senate spot the party will never the numbers to get candidates into seats. What’s the point of voting for Family First when you can be voting against a party you disagree with and keeping them out of power.  

I have no numbers to back this up. But I’m sure I could find them. I know that some people who are single issue voters on abortion will get angry when I say this. But voting for family first when you’re a nominally conservative voter who doesn’t like abortion is pretty much a vote for Labor – who (despite their name being similar to the act of giving birth) are the most likely party to legalise abortion in Australian states.

Obviously the preference system allows you to make this statement while still essentially voting for the LNP – but a real statement would be made by the number of people not preferentially voting at all – and ousting a government without having to rely on preferences at all. 

It may be a principled move. It may make a statement.  But it’s a phyrric victory only. So I won’t be making that move any time soon. 

This is too late to change anyone’s mind anyway. But it’s my two cents worth.

Also, I think it’s slightly ironic that the Greens print out how to vote cards. They’re such a waste of paper. Perhaps we should change the legislation to allow each nominated candidate to place a “how to vote” card in the voting booth. That’s under 10 printouts per candidate per booth – rather than thousands.

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