Lucky numbers

All that time redesigning the site has prevented me making a timely entry into debate over the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. The main headline-grabbers have been voluntary voting and four-year terms, which are respectively dead-on-arrival and likely to land in the too-hard basket due to the need for a referendum (at least on the current Prime Minister’s watch). Of greater significance is recommendation 37, "that compulsory preferential voting above the line be introduced for Senate elections, while retaining the option of compulsory preferential voting below the line". Antony Green has had a fair bit to say on this one:

A stinker of an electoral reform idea … a recipe for an informal rate of 20% or more. Sure you wouldn’t have had to fill in preferences for all 78 candidates below the line on the 2004 NSW Senate ballot paper, but you will have to fill in 29 preferences above the line. Whoopee! … Above all, the Committee’s mindless insistence on refusing to countenance any form of optional preferential voting is breathtaking. In his speech to the Sydney Institute last week, Senator Abetz stated that apart from the first five preferences, and perhaps the last five, voters don’t really care about their preference sequence and probably end up filling in the numbers randomly. If that’s the case, what exactly is the point of making voters fill in all their preferences?

Writing in yesterday’s Crikey email, Charles Richardson broadly agreed but noted that the abolition of preference tickets would mean an end to the use of dummy parties for preference harvesting, thus reducing the number of boxes to be numbered. The estimable Dr Graeme Orr of Griffith University Law School went so far as to dispute Antony’s basic premise, suggesting a requirement to number every box would bring the two houses’ systems into line and reduce "’1′ only" informal voting for the lower house. Antony has responded to both in typically persuasive fashion with another article in Crikey.

Ultimately, this is a disagreement about the second best system – all concerned agree that optional preferential voting for both houses is the best option. It is the only solution to the preference lottery that will not inflate the informal vote, and it will deliver the last two seats in any given Senate race to the candidates who come nearest a quota on the primary vote, as natural justice demands. The Coalition and the Democrats, and hence JSCEM (the committee includes five Liberal, one Democrat and four Labor members), have concluded otherwise. The Greens are not represented on the committee but they evidently concur – Bob Brown introduced a bill to the Senate earlier this year to require that all above-the-line boxes be numbered, with no provision for optional preferential voting.

It is clear why the Liberals and Nationals are not keen on OPV as their votes could no longer be relied upon to reinforce each other through preferences. This would compel them to avoid three-cornered contests in the House and run joint tickets in the Senate, provoking an eruption of turf wars they would prefer to avoid. Presumably the Democrats favour full distribution of preferences as it boosts the prospects of parties who underperform on the primary vote, which is the regrettable position in which they find themselves. The Greens’ wariness about OPV for the Senate (the House is a very different matter) makes less sense, as I argued in April.

An interesting observation was made at Palmer’s Oz Politics by "Sceptic", bearing in mind that anonymous blog comments should be treated with due caution:

The interesting side issue will be the attitude of the party administrations. I don’t think either (Liberal federal director) Brian Loughnane or (ALP national secretary) Tim Gartrell will be too impressed with changes to the ATL Senate voting. More informal votes lead to less public funding for the major parties. It is an open secret that Mr Loughnane leaned on John Howard to junk the option of voluntary voting for this very reason. Imagine if these reforms lead to a financial crisis for the major parties in the future. You would assume that the PM, a loyal party man, would consider this very carefully.

For this and other reasons, my expectation is that the Government will invoke concerns over the informal vote to justify the abandonment of recommendation 37, which will join voluntary voting and four-year terms in the graveyard of major reform proposals resulting from the committee inquiry.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

40 comments on “Lucky numbers”

  1. Optional preferential voting, which Antony seems to favour, would be the death knell of the minor parties in the Senate. This would be a sad day for Australian politics and force us into the monochrome left v’s right stalemate, instead of a kaleidoscope of options that can draw from the best of both. Most people who vote for a minor party still want their vote to count and would be peeved to learn that a single ‘1’ above the line, although not informal, effectively waisted their vote when it expired. Minor parties rely on preference distributions to survive, but optional preferential voting will effectively take the first 6 candidates past the post in the senate, effectively requiring a minor party to score a full quota off its own bat to get representation. Unlikely, and very crude.

    I guess that I am in the 5% who choose to vote BTL, but even I don’t know all of the specific candidates, and am generally content to number them in the order that the parties propose within their group.

    I believe that voters would be more likely to exercise their democratic right to allocate their own preferences if they had the option to order preferences on a party basis ATL, which would distribute votes to the candidates in order, as I am currently forced to do long hand (by the time I get to 100, I loose count !).

    A better solution would be to provide 3 options.
    1. Retain GVTs, which would still mean that voters can elect to cede their right to allocate preferences to their party of choice by simply placing “1” ATL, as 95% currently do.
    2. Full preferential ATL voting as described the paragraph above.
    3. BTL voting, candidate specific.

    Together with the other proposed improvements requiring registered parties to publish their values/constitution etc. I think you will find that:
    a. fewer people will use option 1, thus taking the heat out of the arguments pertaining to democratic ‘abuse’ through GVTs. WIN !
    b. more people will use option 2, improving the engagement of the electorate in a true democratic process. WIN !
    c. virtually no one will use option 3, but it remains for choice if someone wants to promote or demote specific candidates. WIN !
    d. no votes will expire. WIN !
    e. minor parties will survive. WIN !
    f. the informal vote is unlikely to increase substantially. WIN !
    g. people are not forced to vote for candidates they can tell from a chocolate frog. WIN !
    h. Instead they will focus more on party policy than personality. WIN !

  2. Ray, allow me to explain at very great length why I do not think OPV would harm minor parties.

    It is true that OPV is bad news for minor parties and independents in single-member lower house seats. Usually independents who win here do so by getting past one major party, receiving 90 per cent of their preferences and thereby getting ahead of the other major party. But OPV would not have this effect in the Senate. It is true that minor parties nearly always need preferences to get to a quota under the current system, but OPV would mean they wouldn’t have to. With a large number of exhausting votes you would not get six candidates with a full quota, so the last one or two seats would go to the candidates who came closest. These would be minor party candidates just as often as at present.

    The NSW experience illustrates the point. OPV was introduced there at the 2003 election and 78.6 per cent of voters carried on as before, numbering one box above the line without knowing or caring that this meant that part of their vote would end up exhausting. After the primary vote was counted, this is how many quotas were won by each significant party:

    Labor 9.58
    Liberal/Nationals 7.33
    Greens 1.89
    Christian Democratic 0.67
    Shooters Party 0.45
    Pauline Hanson 0.42

    So right off the bat Labor won nine seats, the Coalition seven and the Greens one, which left four of the 21 seats to be decided after distribution of preferences. At that point the scoreboard looked as follows:

    Greens (2nd candidate) 0.89
    Christian Democratic 0.67
    Labor (10th candidate) 0.58
    Shooters Party 0.45
    Pauline Hanson 0.42
    Liberal/Nationals (8th candidate) 0.33

    Because most people just voted one above the line very few preferences were allocated, and these totals did not change much. So the last four seats went to the second Greens candidate, the CDP, the tenth Labor candidate and the Shooters Party. Despite the significant difference that Senate elections are for six seats rather than 21, the system would work the same way. Take the contentious example of Victoria at the last election. The number of quotas on the primary vote were as follows:

    Liberal/Nationals 3.09
    Labor 2.53
    Greens 0.62
    DLP 0.14
    Family First 0.13
    Democrats 0.13

    So the Coalition won three votes straight up and Labor won two with one more seat to be decided after preferences, with the scoreboard reading thus:

    Greens 0.62
    Labor (3rd candidate) 0.53
    DLP 0.14
    Family First 0.13
    Democrats 0.13

    C compulsory preferential meant there were enormous changes to these scores after preferences were distributed, with the effect that Family First got up. But under OPV, there would have been very little change to this after preferences (only if the result was very close would there be much chance of preferences changing the order) and the Greens would have won the sixth seat easily, and rightly so.

    In other states, there would have been no change to the result in NSW (three seats to the Coalition and three to Labor), Queensland (three Liberal, one Nationals, two Labor), WA (three Liberal, two Labor, one Greens) and Tasmania (three Liberal, two Labor, one Greens). In South Australia, where the actual result was three Liberal and three Labor, the Greens would in fact have won a seat – they got 0.46 of a quota compared with Labor’s 2.48, a small enough gap that it would have been closed after preferences from Democrats and others.

    I will grant you this much – the Greens came close to winning a seat in Queensland last year and would have been less likely to do so under OPV. But the system would not be intrinsically harder on minor parties than the present one, and would have produced one more minor party Senator if it had operated last year – though this would have been at the expense of Labor, and thus the Coalition would still have its majority.

  3. William, I do believe I understand the theory, and indeed you have offered some impirical evidence that suggests there is no intrinsic disadvantage to minor parties. I don’t have the time to study the OPV v’s STV differences in depth to assert that theoretically. The major problem with OPV, however, is that the votes are permited to exhaust, and that to my mind is more of a perturbation to democracy than any of the (mostly fallacious) arguements petaining GVTs. For my vote not to be counted is depriving me of my democratic right. As you acknowledge OPV delivers a different result to STV and to that extent democracy is perturbed regardless of whether it favours major or minor, left or right.

    For me to trust my party to know more about politics than I do and trust them to order my preferences to maximise the chances of my prefered candidate winning can hardly be considered more undemocratic. If they do there job well, my preferences will not be distributed as my prefered candidate would not be excluded, so it won’t matter what deals they have to do to maximise those chances. A single 1 ATL, would be exactly the same as me transcribing a how to vote card, fully elaborated BTL, handed to me by my prefered party at the polling booth. Would that be considered undemocratic? I think not.

    Victorian members of Family First are surely pleased that they put the trust in their own party to manage that. Family First came under implied criticism in section 9.45 of the JSCEM report for exchanging preferences whith Minor parties of unlike values. Interestingly that party viz. Democrats entered into that same agreement, with the same intent but did not get cited in the report. It takes two to tango.

    Certainly, I believe that compulsary full preferential voting ATL or BTL (ie. my options 2 and 3 without option 1) would be a better solution from a purist demacratic point of view, but the hit on informals would be too high. Thus I believe my three option solution is a suitable compromise. But to allow votes to exhaust through OPV is crude and to my mind undemocratic.

  4. Providing ATL preferences as a third option was the solution I proposed to the Joint committee. Clearly most people are happy to just vote ‘1’. The problem with the current system is that if you choose to do soemthing else, you have to number every square below the line, and you receive no help on how to do this from parties. Allowing above the line preference voting provides a slightly easier option and might encourage more people to use it.

    My proposal also included limiting the number of preferences that parties can put on registered tickets. If a party could give preferences to only a limited number of other groups on the ballot paper, it would be in their interest to only give preferences to like minded parties, rather than engage in endless strategic preference swaps.

    It would also make life much much harder for micro-parties trying to engage in preference harvesting.

    The number of preferences allowed is open to debate. Say you could only give one other preference. Well, in fact the major parties would then have an inducement to issue full lists of preferences on their how-to-vote cards in an effort to encourage more voters to give preferences. Limited preferences on group tickets would disadvantage parties that don’t campaign and don’t hand out how-to-vote material. There is nothing wrong with an electoral system working in favour of parties that campaign for votes.

    The way transfer values work could also be altered so that when a candidate is elected, votes with preferences end up in the suprlus votes, and votes with no further preferences are set aside with the elected candidate. That is the system that currently applies in NSW and the ACT.

    This may be distorting the Senate system away from the principles of Hare-Clark, but Hare-Clark is an extremely personal form of voting best suited to small parliaments, and is not particularly well suited to Senate elections in states like NSW where voters are barely aware of who the candidates are.

    Ticket voting has produced problems with distorting the real intent of the electorate. It has provided a currency which has allowed parties to do trades. If you cut the preferences, that is cut the currency of the transactions, you make it harder to do deals. It forces parties back to thinking who they would want elected with their preferences, not who can they do deals with to try and elect one of their own.

    And I still cannot understand why people continue to view optional preferential voting as something evil. Why is it anymore corrupting of the system to have a result affected by exhausted preferences than to have it determined by voters filling in preferences they don’t have anyway?

    And as for Ray, look, under OPV, preferences are allowed to exhaust because voters don’t fill them in. If voters don’t have further preferences, I don’t see why they should be forced to fill them in. Now I know everyone gets very concerned about Labor’s ‘just vote 1’ campaign in Queensland, but I can also produce numerous examples where parties have used their how to vote cards under compulsory preferential voting to finish third an engineer certain results.

    Under compulsory preferential voting, Labor in Queensland and Victoria had a tradition of directing preferences against whichever sitting conservative party was contesting a seat in a bid to de-stabilise the Coalition. It had an incentive to lower its own vote in an effort to de-stabilise the Coalition.

    In Warrnambool in the 1980s, Labor defeated a National Party candidate by running third and directing preferences to the Liberals. At the next election, the Liberal vote rose, the Labor and National vote fell, but by Labor reversing its preference flows, the Liberal was defeated.

    I don’t see why manipulating optional preferential voting is any more perverse in its outcome than manipulating compulsory preferential voting. I would in fact argue it is less perverse as it weights the system towards the first and higher preferences, the ones voters are likely to hold more strongly.

  5. I recognise that I am well out of my league debating democratic principles and processes with Antony, but one of the problems I see with OPV is that while many people are not sufficiently politically aware to sort out preferences throughout the spectrum of contesting parties, especially on a large senate ballots, they often can distinguish between who they definitely do want and who they definitely don’t want. To give expression to that negative preference by placing that candidate(s) last, they would need to number every party (currently every candidate) in between. A single ‘1’ vote ATL under OPV would not give expression to that negative preference.

    To extend the currency metaphor, most people are prepared to entrust their party to sort out that complexity for them and maximise their invested vote for their preferred candidate, in much the same way as I entrust my fund manager to manage my portfolio to maximise my financial investment in a market that I don’t fully understand. I don’t see anything undemocratic about that.

    If the parties were forced to elaborate their HTV card with the full preference assignment (hopefully ATL) and their constituents faithfully transcribed that onto their ballot paper, then this would yield the same result as a GVT, except that it would give more transparency to the voter.

    The problem with removing the single ‘1’ option, as Antony points out, is likely unacceptable rise in informal votes. To my mind an exhausted vote is as bad as an informal vote, for reasons explained in the first paragraph, it would just look better for the AEC. Better to let it activate a GVT as the voter intended.

    If we had a society perfectly educated in politics and the democratic process, then we could probably drop GVTs, but unfortunately the fact is we don’t. Most people would not have heard of Hare-Clark or understand its application to our Senate election process, let alone all the nuances we have been discussing. So whilst voting is compulsory, which I support as a means of encouraging engagement, GVTs help them through the maize just like HTV cards.

    The more insidious aspects of preference harvesting that the current system permits is the ability to mount ‘front’ micro parties, often with emotive names like “We don’t beat women Party” or smart trendy names like ‘Let’s Party’ to collect votes from the unwary or apathetic voter for the benefit of another party. I put this in the same category as insider trading, again extending the currency metaphor, and should be stomped out. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. An unabused GVT system has and will continue to work well. The solution is to improve it, not throw it out.

    Much has been said of Family First ‘miraculous’ rise to power on debut, and the Green’s in particular declared it as a ‘front’ party for the Government. Well (Hello… Hello..) Steve Fielding so far has demonstrated otherwise, most often voting against Government (with the Green’s!) on major legislation, and likewise Howard has not honoured his pledge to Family Impact Statements. Hardly characteristics of a ‘front’ party, and certainly no abuse of the GVT system.

  6. No! Putting a preference last, or 15th, or 20th doesn’t matter. What matters is placing your least preferred candidate at a point in the preference ordering that ensures they will not receive preferences, that the vote will first go to all the other parties with a chance of being elected. Whether your least preferred candidate is last or not doesn’t matter, it matters they are last amongst any candidates with a chance of being elected.

    If there are only half a dozen parties with a chance of being elected, then you simply put your least preferred party as the sixth prefered party. Your vote will have to go to the other five first. Beyond your sixth party, none of the others have any chance of being elected. Being last is less important than being last amongst those with a chance of election.

    What happens with compulsory preferences is that voters go to the effort of putting someone last, but it means your preferences might go through a candidate you have never heard of, but they receive your preferences in an effort to put someone else last.

    In 1999 in NSW, Peter Breen of Reform the Legal System was effectively elected by this constant drift of below the line preferences to the top left of the ballot paper. The perverse effect of compulsory preferences and trying to put someone else last is that some one you haven’t heard could get elected.

    Honestly, sending a negative message is damned difficult in Senate style voting. It’s easy with single member electorates, because you nearly always have a rough idea of who will finish first or second.

    But in the Senate System, you need to know not only the order, but how much above or below a quota each will be.

    I say encourage people to vote for the people they’ve heard of, and in that listing, put them in the order they want them elected. In most cases that will send the negative message they want.

  7. d. no votes will expire. WIN !
    g. people are not forced to vote for candidates they can tell from a chocolate frog. WIN !

    Ray, these are conflicting outcomes.

    Under any form compulsary preferences, the risk of a vote ending up with a candidate the voter never wanted remains. Whether it be because the voter is forced to make an arbitrary choice themselves or their party makes it for them.

    The mistake you make is believing the parties will make an honest assessment of where the votes of their supporters should go. They don’t. As the 2004 election has shown.

    I also think you misunderstand the intention of preferential voting. It’s not designed to ensure that all votes remain ‘formal’, but simply to relieve the dilemma of tactical voting. If voters don’t want to choose between two or more equally repugnant choices, they shouldn’t have to.

  8. I completely agree with everything that Antony has said. But in order to prevent a complete scandal if compulsory preferential ATL senate voting is introduced the JSCEM needed to introduce a mechanism to appropriately reduce the number of parties or independents who nominate.

    They have not done this, which begs the question on the motives of the members of the committee to want to introduce this electoral reform. Could it be that some members on the committee want the informal rate to increase? I just think it is very disappointing that crass political opportunism is being masked as electoral reform.

    Perhaps increasing the nomination fee is the best and most appropriate way to go. I suggest a $5000 fee for a party and $2,500 for an individual. At least some of the disinegenuous, and some of the publicity seekers, would be weeded out. One would assume nominations would come from the most genuine and comitted.

    Some may argue that the fee is too high for an independent. But reform should be balanced. Senate voting is state based. It is ridiculous the size of the Senate papers in the larger states such as Victoria and NSW. Nominations include fringe individuals or parties who are not fair dinkum about winning. If they nominate they should be made to pay a reasonable fee to indicate their seriousness.

    I remain sceptical about reform that appears to encourage confusion and disillusionment based on historical nomination numbers. How about fair dinkum reform that reverses the trend of excessive nominations while keeping the political process as inclusive as possible.

  9. Call me naïve if you will, but if I place my least preferred party at number six on my senate ballot paper, as Antony suggests, and don’t number those parties that I have no knowledge of, and my five preceding preferences are excluded in the count, then my sixth preference will contribute to the election of that parties candidate, exactly opposite to my intent. The only way my vote would contribute at all to the election in the manner in which I intended, would be if one of the preceding five parties happened to be a major party. Furthermore, if a single 1 vote for a minor party were cast as a valid vote under OPV (perhaps because I was not aware of the change), and that party was excluded, then that vote will exhaust and not contribute at all to the make up of the senate. This comes back to my initial point of bias against minor party voters. It virtually disenfranchises all unwary minor party voters.

    Of the arguments against GVTs, I see nothing evil in preference dealing either. I fully expect that my preferred party will negotiate, and even deal with parties of an opposite persuasion, in order to get optimal expression of their policy agenda in parliament. That’s how politics works, and I don’t see anything insidious about them extending that to the electoral process itself. If I dislike the preference deals they have done I have every right to change that preference order. HTV cards are only a suggestion of how to vote anyway.

    The abuses come with preference harvesting through ‘front’ parties, which I agree is trading in illegal currency, similar to branch stacking within parties, and parties caught engaging in this practice should be deregistered and party officials gaoled. Once this black economy is curtailed, the number of parties would be limited, and the whole process would be streamlined, encouraging more people to fully participate, rather than just ceding that responsibility to their preferred party.

    The other main problem with the current system is the lack of transparency of those GVTs. If parties were forced to elaborate the their full preference arrangements ATL on their HTV card (currently an informal vote) and prevented from promoting “just vote 1” as a valid option, even though it would be counted as per the HTV card then
    • the transparency will be improved
    • voters will be more inclined to participate than cede responsibility
    • the voting arrangement would more align with the HoR
    • the informal vote would not increase as a single 1 ATL would still count per the HTV for that party
    • the informal vote in the HoR may reduce due to the consistent voting mode in both houses (one could even invert the Senate ballot paper to have the parties listed vertically on the left with candidates listed right of the line as in WA, to further equate the look and feel of the ballot paper with that of the HoR)
    • admittedly one can expect an increase in informal votes by virtue of having to number all parties contending, but one would expect this to increase under OPV also. If the black market in preferences were curtailed, only genuine parties will contend which would reduce this impact.

    Perhaps after one or two elections one can assess the number of people still voting 1 ATL, to make a decision as to whether to remove that as a valid (although unpromoted) option. But OPV? Even Antony, who I hold in high respect, has not convinced me.

  10. In other words, you would rather have your preferences elect someone you don’t know. That sounds a very rational way to number a ballot paper and design an electoral system.

  11. Having re-read Ray’s first par, I’ll try and explain my point about the six parties again.

    If only six parties have a chance of being elected, then if you put your least liked party sixth of these six parties, then your preferences will first go to the five other parties with a chance of being elected. In other words, the preferences will never reach your sixth ranked party, they will end up with one of the other five parties with a chance of election. Your vote will assist every other party with a chance of election.

    The only way this strategy will not work is if a party you do not know has a chance of election. Now if you are not sure who will get elected, and you have gone all the way to the end of the ballot paper to put your least preferred party last, then what will in fact happen is that your preference will help elect the candidate you have not heard of. This candidate may be better or worse than your lowest ranked candidate. You don’t know, but your preference strategy has helped elect them.

    Under optional preferential voting, you could have simply stopped after numbering the other five parties with a chance of election, and avoided the choice between a party you utterley disliked and all the other candidates on the ballot paper you haven’t heard of.

    Using this strategy under OPV means that when your vote runs out of preferences, it cannot assist a candidate you have never heard of pull ahead of a candidate you completely dislike. But as you do not know whether the candidate you have never heard of is in fact worse than the candidate you dislike, it is rational not to choose between them.

    Of course, what I am talking of completely denies the voter that little thrill of going to the effort of putting someone last. But as I’m trying to explain, that thrill may be completely misplaced if all it does is help elect a candidate you don’t know. Under OPV, that is not a problem.

  12. I agree, that not numbering my least preferred candidate, and thereby grouping them with the no-name parties/candidates, is preferable to the guidance given in your initial advice.

    But I hope you’re not suggesting that I limit my preference options to parties that I perceive apriori have a chance of being elected. Democracy would work better if people select from a range of options and allocate preferences to the parties with a policy mix that best aligns with their view, and candidates with capacity to adequately represent those policies. Indeed, it may be a single-issue party advocating an issue that I am particularly passionate about, and wish to give this a chance, however remote, of being represented in parliament. At least that issue may get some profile through the electoral process itself.

    But I think the issue that concerns both of us, Antony, regardless of the merits of optional v’s full preferential voting, is how should a single 1 ATL be treated, for those that will invariable continue to vote the same way they have for a couple of decades. Under the proposed system, that vote will be regarded as informal. We agree that is unacceptable. Under your proposal it will exhaust, and if it is for a minor party that is excluded in the count, in will not contribute at all to final selection of the candidates preferred by the electorate. This surely will not be what they intend, and that to my mind is just as bad as an informal vote.

    p.s. wrt David’s comment, he may have been confused by my typo that reversed the logic. Note g should read
    “g. people are not forced to vote for candidates they can’t tell from a chocolate frog. WIN !”
    Meaning I support the proposal not to have to number all candidates in order to express my full party preference option.

  13. No. I’m suggesting you vote for all the candidates you know, and put them in the order you would like to see them elected. That is always my advice. But compulsory preferential voting always makes that advice messy as you have to put candidates you don’t know somewhere.

    The NSW system gives no preferences for single group ticket votes. They only apply to the selected party. But NSW elects 21 with a quota of 4.55%. so such a system is acceptable because the quota is so low. It ends up working like List PR with a highest remainder method of determining the final vacancies. Personally, in such circumstances D’Hondt or St Lague would be better than highest remainder. The way the NSW highest remainder system works with optional preferential voting always helps the smaller parties, as William has already explained. But if there are going to use preferences, might as well stay with the existing system.

    With the Senate, the higher quota means it is best to maximise the number of preferences or risk the final vacancy almost going to a random candidate at an election with a high rate of exhaustion. That is why I would keep ticket voting, but limit the number of preference allowed on group tickets. Voters could fill in more preferences, and parties could advocate more preferences, but parties would be limited on their group tickets.

    The fewer preferences allowed, the higher the exhausted vote. The more the preferences, the higher the opportunity for backroom deals and the adoption of strategic preference lists rather than ‘preferred’ or ideological preference listings. You have to balance the two.

    My comments about defining the six parties with a chance of election really comes from thinking through the problem of limiting party preference tickets. If at the last NSW election, with 29 groups, each party could preferences to only 4 other parties on the ballot paper, they would have had to think very seriously about who they wanted to see elected if their final candidate was excluded. If you do a strategic preference deal, you would then deny yourself the opportunity to preference a like minded party.

    My point remains about the JSCEM recommendation is that it makes informal a vote used for more than two decades by 95% of the electorate, assumes education can fix this problem, and mandates as the solution forcing voters to transcribe or randomly allocate complete lists of preferences. Just doesn’t make sense.

  14. OK. This reduces, perhaps even closes, the difference between us. I had missed your advocacy for a single 1 ATL vote to still activate a GVT, albeit with limited preference options. I had read your proposal to imply that it meant an OPV of one preference. This would be unacceptable.

    Would you insist that constraints be placed on the party HTV card that tie it in some manner to the GVT. For example:
    1. Can the HTV reflect a different preference order to the GVT?
    2. Can the HTV be a limited set of the GVT?
    3. Can it just advocate 1 ATL, thus activating the ticket?
    4. Can it extend the preferences stated in the GVT?
    5. Must it reflect exactly the GVT?
    6. Other. What?

    I would say yes to 4 only.

    How many preference options would you permit in the Senate context? And what do you see as the rationale for that number, in the context of the balancing game you have characterised.

    This may all be academic if recommendation 37 is dead in the water. But it gives useful information for constructive amendments otherwise. It would serve as an intriguing debate. What do you assess as its chances of parliamentary debate?

  15. Ray,

    I hadn’t even noticed your typo. It was clear enough what you meant and it should have been perfectly clear what I meant.

    It’s fine to support a “full party” preference option. But why do you insist that a vote for one party should potentially flow on to a number of others as well?

    If the voter wants that to happen then fine. They should state that on their ballot. But handing off the job to parties to determine the secondary choices of their supporters is unacceptable.

    All your arguments rest on the dubious notion that a vote for anyone – even a complete unknown or a candidate/party completely at odds with your political values – is better than an exhausted vote.


    I’m curious as to your fondness for limited inter-party GTVs. Do you favour this over NSW’s strictly intra-party GTVs or is it just a compromise option? To me it seems like a partial solution; it wouldn’t completely alleviate the problem with GTVs currently. It might also mean we couldn’t have ATL preferences. Once again forcing voters to use the tedious BTL option in order to state their proper intentions.

    As for highest remainder, it has its flaws. But don’t the European PR methods work strictly with primary vote? If there’s a way to incorporate those PR systems with preferences, I’d love to hear it.

  16. Oops, you’d obviously dealt with my last point in this sentence:

    But if there are going to use preferences, might as well stay with the existing system.

    I was working on the assumption that no Australian politician would be silly enough to propose abolishing preferences. Not for any chamber of partliament. The european PR systems, whilst good, still suffer from spoilage effects.

  17. There are currently no restrictions on how to vote (HTV) cards. Groups like Anti-Abortion and various Green groups can issue HTV cards. If a party makes a mistake with a lodged group ticket vote (GTV), insisting a party must have its HTV match its GTV prevents it from fixing an error. If a party does something ojectionable in the last week, a party may not want to direct preferences. If a party wants its HTV different from its GTV, well, it chooses to do it. If a voter follows the HTV, then the GTV will not apply, so no one can accuse a party of misleading voters. If parties issue a HTV with different preferences and urge a ‘just vote 1’, it might be misleading. There are so many options you tie yourself in knots with the regulations. If you go down this path, you have to regulate all how to vote cards, and that becomes an entirely different problem.

    I understand your point Ray, but I think in the end trying to introduce the controls you want will be counterproductive and overly complex.

    My idea of limiting preferences is to overcome the fact that the larger parties will put every micro-party high up on their list in the hope of attracting preferences, before they will put the parties they would actually prefer to see elected. This happened in most states in 2004 with Labor and the Democrats, and the Greens also did it in NSW at the 2001 election. Limiting preferences discourages this sort of behaviour by parties, as every micro-party you put at the top of the ticket means there is another party you can’t put on your ticket.

    Limiting preferences also makes it much easier to understand how the preferences work, and makes those publications with the lodged GTV’s understandable.

    This in essence is what the NSW LC system has achieved by banning all inter-party preferences, with a single above the line vote being for that party only. It is just the difference in the quota, 4.55% versus 14.3%, that makes me suggest the Federal system should retain some preferences on its ticket. Most minor parties that do not issue how to vote cards would simply exhaust with no preferences if the NSW LC system was adopted.

    As to the number, my suggestion is four preferences. Or perhaps base it on the number of groups, say one-quarter or one-third. I’m entirely open to suggestion. But by limiting the number, you force parties to reveal their real preferences, or go give no real preferences, rather than give strategic preference tickets.

    I’m not afraid of GTV’s having no inter-party preferences. I just think it will not be an option swallowed by the parties in Parliament.

    If you introduce these sorts of tickets, I also think you should change the transfer value so when a candidate is elected, the group votes go into a quota set aside for the elected candidate, and all the ballot papers on which voters have live preferences should go into the suplus. That will mean voters that bother to give preferences will find their vote more effective than voters who simply vote ‘1’. It will also encourage parties to distribute HTVs with more preferences than their GTV.

    Whether the parliament allows optional preferential voting or not, I’m suggesting this as an alternative if ticket voting is retained. It counters preference dealing. My horror is that the Parliament will take the other option, which is to introduce a threshhold quota, where all parties below a certain percentage get excluded at the first stage of the count. The problem here is micro-parties and preference harvesting. My limited preference system deals with preference harvesting without introducing artificial quotas.

    By the way, on a related matter. The next Tasmanian election will be condcted under a new electoral act. It has substantially changed the way nominations occur. Any candidate can be nominated by 10 nominators as in the past. Any registered party gets access to a group on the ballot paper. But if individuals that are not part of a registered party wish to have their own column on the ballot paper rather than appear as ungrouped, they must now get 100 nominators. Parties must have 100 members to be registered, so the new rules make all groups on the ballot paper equal. But it is the first Hare-Clark step down the path of limiting groups on the ballot paer. I expect similar measures to be adopted for the Senate.

  18. David,

    Note d. and (ammended) g. were not in conflict at all. It is possible to have full preferential voting (per d.) ATL (per g.), which is exactly what recomendation 37 proposes.

    I believe it is quite acceptable for a voter to cede responsibility for secondary preference flows to his party if he chooses. That’s precisely what he does when he transcribes a HTV card. A 1 vote ATL just reduces the chances of an informal vote resulting from that transcription.

    As far as preference flows to unknown/least preferred parties is concerned, if you follow the discussion trail, I was responding to Antony’s statement that “put your least preferred party as the sixth prefered party” would magically give the result I was after. The real answer we agree is don’t mark your least prefered party on the paper at all.

    Now that I understand that that he proposes to handle the 1 vote ATL through the constrained party GVT, and not let it automatically exhaust I have no issue, only questions on those constraints as above.

  19. Ugh. The more I read that stuff, the more I realise the simple solution is to ban tickets and go for optional preferential voting above the line, perhaps with a minimum number of preferences. As a fall back, ticket voting should be allowed as an interim measure to save votes given the change to be introduced, but the tickets should have no preferences. Then see my comment on how to change the transfer.

    Such a system advantages a party that issues a how to vote card, as voters would be more likely to follow it. Parties with no how to vote would simply get ones.

    It is the parties with just ones that will be the sticking point in this proposal, which is why I fell back on the limited preference tickets.

  20. A HTV card is different, as there the voter is required to consciously transcribe the suggested preference order. If the voter disagrees with some or all of it, they can use a different order.

    GTV is different. The voter generally has no knowledge of the preference order they are choosing to go with. Or, if they are familiar with their party’s preferences and disagree with some of it, they have to take up the unattractive BTL option just to state an honest ordering of their intentions.

    As for a full preference listing possibly resulting in an informal vote. Well those votes wouldn’t be informal under OPV!

    Acceptable for a voter to cede preferences to their party? Please… the 2004 Tasmanian senate count provides a perfect example of why it isn’t. Initial projections had Family First winning the 6th & final seat, based on all primary votes being ATL. As it turned out the Greens won the final seat, due to the high % of BTL votes in Tassie (relatively few candidates there). This is a perfect illustration of how the prescribed preferences of parties don’t conform to the wishes of their supporters.

    Contrast this to Victoria, where BTL is a far less enticing option (a lot more candidates on the ballot). This allowed FF to sail past the Greens on preferences despite a being mile behind on primaries. Not because of the true desires of the voters, but because of the whims of party ticket designers (in particular ALP, Dems) . You came on here banging on about what’s democratic. Could you really call this a democratic outcome?

    As for not marking your least preferred party… not possible under CPV. Whether explicity (HoR, BTL) or implicitly (ATL). That party’s gotta be in there somewhere.

  21. How come we didn’t hear all this whinging about Group Tickets when One Nation was getting votes ?

    They were denied 3 or 4 Senate seats due to Group ticketing and noone said a thing.

    It seems to me the complaining about Group Tickets depends on who is benefiting.

  22. Ugh. All right ! Just when I thought we had consensus on the answer to world peace, you seem to be backing off.

    Now, I’m totally confused.

    A ticket with no preferences, is the same as no ticket at all, and a single vote for an excluded party will exhaust immediately under OPV, catching the unwary who had not been educated to the change. The chances of a fledgling party, who can’t man every booth, getting established have gone from hard under the current system, to remote under your constrained GVT option, to impossible under what you now seem to be saying.

  23. My above comment addresses Antony’s submission.

    As for David… what can I say. Don’t look now, but your politics is showing.

    If you bothered to read my submissions, I’m advocating full transparency of the GVT on the HTV card. The voter is welcome to transcribe or modify them at will.

    As for full preferential voting, I backed off that when I understood that Antony’s initial proposal to keep the 1 ATL option to activate a the ticket vote, albeit constrained to avoid the abuses you purport are operating.

    As for the whinging, did you here FFP crying foul when the Nationals exchanged preferences with the Greens in the hope of winning the South West region in WA. In this case the Nationals fell on there sword to deliver the seat to the Greens, that would have otherwise gone to the FFP. As it turns out this was a great win for democracy as it paved the way to pass the 1-vote-1-value legislation in that state.

  24. Allegations of self interest badly miss the point. It’s not a question of who’s getting the most screwed over. It’s a question of whether the final results accurately reflect voter intentions.

    I appreciate that you don’t defend every aspect of the current system. But you suggest mere tweaks where larger overhauls are needed. Keeping inter-party GTVs still potentially produces distorted outcomes.

    You also place too high an importance on votes not exhausting. Do you really think the average minor party voter has an attitude of “I don’t care where my vote goes, just so long as it elects somebody”? I doubt it. (I dare say they probably find an exhausted vote preferable to electing someone they don’t like.)

    Voters intent on not “wasting” their vote would either (a) vote for one of the major parties (especially the more naive voters); or (b) learn how to make sure their vote counts.

  25. Although I suspect we may have differing politics, at least in some dimensions, you would be surprised just how much we are in agreement of the need for major reform. Removing the ticket vote, will remove all allegations of inter-party skulduggery.

    However, major step change will always have unintended consequences. People will have to be weaned off the old system to the new. My concern, as with Antony, is that people will continue to vote 1 ATL as most voters have done all their voting life, fully expecting that their preferences will flow as they always have, regardless of how good the education campaign may be.

    It seems we both agree that a vote should reflect the voter’s intent. Under the recommendation 37, such a vote would be informal. Under straight OPV it will exhaust, neither reflecting the voters intent.

    At least some voters choose to vote informal.

    Lets assess how successful the education campaign has been, before we cut the GVT safety net.

  26. Ray, you still keep thinking that OPV prevents new parties getting elected. To quote you “The chances of a fledgling party, who can’t man every booth, getting established have gone from hard under the current system, to remote under your constrained GVT option, to impossible under what you now seem to be saying.”

    Even under compulsory preferential voting, a fledgling party that cannot staff every booth will struggle to get elected. Its only chance is the ‘show and tell’ auction meeting that takes place the hour before ticket votes are lodged. And it is that show and tell meeting which produces ticket votes that distort the will of the electorate.

    In fact, a new party at the 1998 election could well have elected 5 Senators if it were not for ticket voting and compulsory preferential voting. One Nation easily outpolled the Democrats in five states, and it was only ticket voting that resulted in the Democrats electing five Senators and One Nation one Senator.

    You basically have to get about half a quota to have any chance of being elected, roughly 6-7%. If you get to that level, you are in a race for the final position with the third candidate of one of the major parties. Whether you’ll be advanatged or disadvantaged by optional preferential voting depends on the relative level of votes for the remaining parties.

    The only parties elected with less than this level in the past have been by dodgy preference deals, namely Bob Woods of the NDP in 1987, and Family First in 2004. Parties that have got above this level and missed out include Peter Garrett of the NDP in 1984 and One Nation in 1998 and 2001. Again, these results all came about because of ticket voting deals.

    Optional preferential voting will almost certainly make it harder for a party with 4-6% get elected, as the endless minor party flows to other minor parties will be diminished. I don’t have a problem with this. I don’t accept that just because these group are not the nasty old major parties, that the system should run to stack all their votes together and produce by an obscure process, one of them as the winning candidate. If optional preferences encourage some of these groups to run together, to maximise their primary vote, then that process of coalition building actually makes them a better candidate for Senator. Better that than current system run by clashing egos that produce the unseemly show and tell preference swap meetings.

    But if it is harder for a party with 4-6% to get elected under OPV, I think a minor party that gets 8-10% will be advantaged by optional preferential voting.

    Where it gets interesting is two minor parties both with about 4-5% running. OPV will make it harder for them to compete and swap preferences. The best example of this occurring has been the battle between the Greens and Democrats at WA Senate elections in the 15 years.

    My ‘ugh’ earlier is the logical problem you get once you start to allow savings provisions that undermine the intent of compulsory preferential voting. Once you have savings provisions which are effectively optional preferential voting you create problems for the existing parties which are exactly why they oppose optional preferential voting.

    I’m trying to come up with a replacement for the existing GTV system which will allow the ‘1’ votes to be formal but without all the current problems caused by GTV having full preferences. You come up with inconsistences which don’t happen if you start with the principle of either optional or compulsory preferential voting.

    An original idea I had was a ‘6 preferences’ all round solution. I adopted six because that is how many vacancies there are at a half senate election. On both House and Senate ballot papers, voters had to fill in six preferences as a minimum. On Senate ballots, that could be either above or below the line. Parties would be forced to nominate six candidates to have access to a box above the line. ‘1’ only votes could be formal as they then implied six votes below the line, or you could allow GTVs to be lodged with minimum preferences. Again, parties could recommend more preferences on how to votes.

    Maybe something like that is a way out. It’s a peculiar half way house system if you start from first principles, but in terms of practicality and keeping the informal rate down, might be a worthwhile option.
    while also removing the existing problems of endless preferences

    Also, any reform will include tightening of the ability to get on the ballot paper. The NSW reforms included forcing parties to lodge a full list of candidates (15) to get access to an above the line box, which produced a deposit fee of $10,000. That certainly cut the number nominating.

  27. I think it would be in the best interests of the federal coalition to introduce optional below the line preferences (minimum of 6 or 12 preferences) and scrap above the line voting.

  28. Antony,

    Part 1.

    You say “ is harder for a party with 4-6% to get elected under OPV, I think a minor party that gets 8-10% will be advantaged by optional preferential voting.” If your last name matched your politics, I’m sure you would be very happy with an OPV scenario.

    I assume you mean under OPV relative to CPV, independent of any ‘distortions’ through ticket votes. I would be interested to explore this theoretically. Even though you probably have a wealth of empirical evidence at you finger tips, this will not necessarily prove it statistically. It may be of value to the forum if you have time to answer this, &/or perhaps point to a reference.

    The ramification of this is that a minor with more votes will be more advantaged over a minor party with less votes under OPV than it would be under CPV. This would further increase the barriers to entry into the political arena under OPV. If there is going to be any “stacking” at all, surely it should “stack” the other way, in much the same way as a football club, in a state where it is a minor code has an increased salary cap, allowing it to at least play the game.

    Part 2.

    You refer to “the nasty old major parties” as though I have a problem with them. Not at all, a two party political system has served us with stable government, certainly all my life. My problem is that it is treated too one- dimensionally, left to right. There are in fact many dimensions in politics, but let me introduce one other for illustration.

    Just like in the US, we crudely map out on a neat straight line from “religious right” to “secular left”. But, if this represents our only choices, then people of faith, who want to express their values through a social justice platform ie. “religious left” are disenfranchised. Likewise the people on the “secular right”, those who say “don’t tell me how to live, and don’t spend my money” are equally disenfranchised. (note: I said “people of faith” who have every right to vote, and not the formal church, which should maintain its separation from politics).

    Why not try and exert influence through the major parties by expressing my agenda there you ask? Well, the fact is democracy is broken within the major parties also. Latham vented his spleen over this (pot calling the kettle black), and Barry Jones confirmed it yesterday. The coalition is no better, circa. Barnaby Joyce being dusted up behind the wood shed. The South Australian parliament will vote on a bill this week to effectively legislate for “gay marriage”, yet people of faith within the Labor party are not permitted to express a conscience vote, or they face expulsion similar to Brian Harrideen or a split in the party per the DLP.

    I believe people do not engage in politics because they are not given sufficient policy options to choose from, and are forced to make a choice that is repugnant to them which ever way they vote. And it is the barriers to entry into politics that inhibit the presentation of those options. I suspect there are a lot of people who would vote for a major party in the HoR that presents the greatest policy alignment and a minor party in the House of Review that can weed out some objectionable nasties from that major party platform. So if barriers to entry were to be removed it should be in the upper house.

    You may be constrained by your position or may not want to comment on Part 2, but I would certainly be interested in you views on Part 1.

  29. The quota for election is 14.3%. Two quotas is 28.6%, three quotas 42.9%.

    Normally one party gets above 42.9%. The question is the overhang beyond 28.6% of the second party and what this is relative to the largest minor party.

    If a minor party gets 8%, then the second major party needs more than 36.6% of the vote for its third quota to lead the minor party. But if the minor party only has 6%, the major party needs only to be above 34.6%.

    Under the current full preferential voting system, a minor party by harvesting all the minor and micro party preferences, can close this gap and get ahead of the second finishing major party. Under optional preferential voting this will be harder.

    But conversly, for a minor party above 8-10% of the vote, they are more likely to be leading the second runnning major party, and will be advantaged by the inability of the major party to close the gap.

    Ray says
    “The ramification of this is that a minor with more votes will be more advantaged over a minor party with less votes under OPV than it would be under CPV. This would further increase the barriers to entry into the political arena under OPV. If there is going to be any “stacking” at all, surely it should “stack” the other way.”

    I completely disagree. The problem with the current system is that it provides no incentive for divided micro parties to resolve their differences and agree on a joint ticket and become a party that can attract a significant vote. If micro-parties can’t agree on policy or joint candidate, the current system allows them all to run, swap preferences, and the lottery of group ticket voting can elect one of them. They are not disadvantaged by their division.

    And before someone says, what about the Liberal and National Parties and preferential voting. Well, in the lower house, there is no ticket voting, and we are talking about two parties likely to poll above 20% in a single electorate. I think this is substantially different than a dozen minor parties all with less than 1%, agreeing to swap preferences. Only ticket voting allows such trades to occur between parties with so little evident support.

    We are not discussing some debating club when we talk about the Senate. Anyone elected gets a seat for 6 years and a key vote on the passage of legislation. It is an important position that requires an ability to negotiate the bills and work out compromises and amendments. I happen to think that the sort of work involved in building a party that can attract a significant vote is a better training ground for such a job than someone elected under the show and tell prefernce deals that most of the smaller parties engage in.

    Our system is full of barriers to entry, starting with party registration, minimum numbers of nominators, and significant nomination deposits. If anything, at the moment, these barriers are too low because of Group ticket voting.

    Whatever change is implemented before the next election is going to raise the barrier for entry for smaller minor parties. Thanks to group ticket voting, the current barrier is way too low. Liberals for Forests in NSW started on 0.53% of the vote and came damn close to election thanks to ticket voting. That group was organised by Glen Druery, the same man that stacked the 1999 NSW Legislative Council ballot paper.

    The Senate system will be changed for the next election in some way to make the barrier for election higher. The current system of compulsory preferences and group ticket votes allows parties to win from tiny votes. Either the GTV system will be abolished, or some form of optional preferential voting will be introduced, or a threshold quota will be introduced. Deposits are certain to rise, it will become harder to register parties and it may become harder to get on the ballot paper.

    I have dealt endlessly with micro parties over the past decade, and most of them are run by one dominant individual. Disputes between micro parties nearly always come down to some form of ego clash. They can’t form a single party, but all swap preferences, often right across the political spectrum from right to left. When Malcolm Jones of the Outdoor Recreation Party was elected to the NSW Legislative Council, it was on the preferences of 23 different parties, most of them front parties.

    Whatever change is introduced, it is going to advantage the larger minor parties over the smaller minor parties. I for one do not have a problem with that.

  30. Your principal criteria for a justifying a system that favours a larger minor party over a smaller one is based on your assertion that internal party democracy works better in a larger party. I assert (as above) that internal party democracy is broken regardless of the size of the party, with perhaps the exception of the Democrats (as you would expect by their name). Unless there are registration requirements that insist that a party demonstrate compliance with basic tenants of democracy in their operational processes, which are subject to independent audit, then this is likely to remain the case. With respect to preference harvesting, and yes even trading under CPV, a larger minor party has just as much opportunity to work this for the benefit of their constituents as a smaller minor party, so I see no compelling reason to weight the system in their favour. Provided one removes the nasties, such as lack of transparency by forcing declaration on the HTV, and restricts registration to genuine (i.e. not front) parties, then I prefer Recommendation 37, tempered by restricted tickets that you originally proposed to catch the uneducated voter, at least as a transition measure. With the number of parties, so limited, the informal vote would not appreciate considerably, the currency of trade would be limited, and voters are more likely to make informed preference choices among genuine parties. After all, I assert that it is precisely the lack of genuine options, and the stalemate caused by one-dimensional politics, that disenfranchise voters and causes their disengagement

    Unless you can present an OPV option that is not weighted either way, then I suggest that Recommendation 37, supplemented as described, be put in place.

    I think we have fleshed out all the issues, even though it has taken a while to get to the nub. I recognise that I have been punching well above my weight in this debate, and I thank you for helping me (and the forum) see the issues more clearly by going a few rounds with me. I believe that there is much more that we agree on than disagree, and I don’t believe those differences carry enough weight to deliver a knock out blow either way. So it will be a points decision. Let’s just hope the judges votes are counted democratically in the Parliament.

  31. I still think you are barking up the wrong tree Ray.

    Parties with higher votes will always have an advantage over parties with lower votes. Every electoral system works that way.

    I’m not sure if you have ever attended one of these show and tell operations where micro parties all agree to swap preferences, but their ain’t no principles involved in the deal. It’s a straight agreement to take part in a lottery. And most of the key organisers are run by one or two individuals who are incapable of working with anyone else politically which is why they end up in such small parties.

    For your information, recommendation 37 on full preferential voting above the line will have the same effect as you complain about with optional preferential voting. Smaller minor parties get low votes because they don’t campaign much and don’t hand out many how-to-votes. If they don’t hand out how-to-votes, they won’t be able to control their preferences and that is the end of any chance of smaller minor parties getting elected.

    What will come out of that process however is a higher informal vote. Optional preferential voting will solve the informal vote. The only way smaller minor parties can get elected is by the continuation of the existing group ticket voting, which every knows is the cause of the current system’s problems.

    I’m still opposed to the JSCEM recommendation because of what it will do to the informal vote.

  32. Surely, this must be the last round, and you seem pretty determined to go for the knock-out blow. Maybe you think I’m ahead on points !? Call me Cinderella man if the if the judges score a win for me against Antony Green.

    As I see it Recommendation 37 is a half way house between a system biased by design, as you admit, under straight OPV, and the current system biased by chance in the ‘lottery’ for the final seat. Either way, someone is going to cry foul. Your preference for the former may well come down to whether your name or politics is Green.

    I too have no problem with a system favouring a party that campaigns for votes, but no-one can cast any accusation of lethargy against the party whose actions have sparked the most recent controversy. (which by the way was totally represented in the Courier Mail by Senator George Brandis of the JSCEM, who suggested they swapped preferences with the Greens ! For God sake, alright.) The only ones crying foul are the supporters of the parties that engaged but lost in the same lottery.

    Recommendation 37 preserves the principles of Hare-Clark, and parties who wish to engage in “unprincipled” trades, will have to hang their “dirty washing” out for all to see on the HTV, and the electorate can mark them accordingly.

    I suggest that we all put our effort into devising ways to limit the ballot to genuine parties, reducing the potential for blow out in informal votes, increasing transparency, and presenting a mix of genuine policy choice to the electorate. Even though you may disagree with the method of getting there, I hope you agree that these are all noble goals.

    I rest my case. And since I believe I am still standing, will defer to the Parliamentary judges.

  33. I was very pleased to see Tristan Jones comment that optional preferential voting below the line be introduced with scrapping above the line voting.

    I put this to the JSCEM, and while noted in the Report, it states that this is not generally supported.

    Unlike Tristan, I am not considering the best interests of the coalition, but of the voters. Such a system would be both much simpler and fairer for the voters. The final result would truly reflect what voters want, not how the party can manipulate the votes.

    Ofcourse with the current choice of marking a ‘one’ above the line or filling in all preferences below the line, over 90% of voters vote above the line. This has nothing to do with which choice they prefer, but just which is simpler.

    I always vote below the line, but with great difficulty and always wonder why I bother. At the last election, to make sure I didn’t vote informal I also voted above the line. While I am pretty sure my vote below the line was correctly filled in, I have had it confirmed that my vote was counted above the line – despite this being incorrect under the electoral legislation.

    While allowing preferences above the line may reduce some of the party manipulation, it will still allow the parties to determine the order of the candidates within each party list. If we are to have an effective democracy in future, the voters need to determine this order. This would also strengthen the parties as they would then know the direction that voters want the various parties to go in. At the moment it is the factions within the political parties that determine the order, regardless of what the voters may want or support.

  34. Deane,
    One note – having it ‘confirmed’ that you voted in that way, other than seeing your vote counted as a scruitineer, may well be a breach of the electoral act. You should warn the person confirming your vote that they could be liable to penalties, up to and including imprisonment, for diclosing the contents of individual votes.

  35. Malcolm Mackerras gives the real reason for the change.

    “MPs vote for self-interest

    Malcolm Mackerras is visiting fellow in political
    science, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Australian Defence Force Academy.
    3 November 2005
    Australian Financial Review
    © 2005 Copyright John Fairfax Holdings Limited.

    The Liberals, the Democrats and the Greens have struck a Faustian pact at the expense of Family First, writes Malcolm Mackerras.

    The political class is now very much taken up with federal legislation dealing with terrorism and industrial relations. It may have forgotten that the next item on John Howard’s agenda will be possible changes to laws relating to the conduct of federal elections.

    Three weeks ago the Report of the Joint Standing Committee on
    Electoral Matters was tabled. It is titled The 2004 Federal Election: Report of the Inquiry into the Conduct of the 2004 Federal Election and Matters Related Thereto. The report comes to 354 white pages; there are also 66 pink pages of minority and dissenting reports.

    My overall reaction is hostile but I have space to deal only with the
    point of my greatest hostility – relating to Senate voting.

    The committee has 10 members but the chairman, Tony Smith (Liberal,
    Victoria), has both a deliberative and a casting vote. So the Liberals have an effective six-five majority. Five members are Liberals, four are Labor and there is one Democrat senator, Andrew Murray.

    The recommendations are relentless in their pursuit of the electoral interests of the Liberal Party.

    Before I get to my main point, I want to put a question to the
    Nationals: why were you so negligent of your own interests as to allow your sole former member, John Forrest (Victoria), to be replaced by a Queensland Liberal? Why did the Nationals allow the coalition majority on the committee to be replaced by an outright majority for the Liberal Party?

    Chapter nine, titled Voting systems, is a disgrace. It is recommendation 37 (page 232) on Senate voting which offends me and it begins with these words: “The committee recommends that compulsory preferential voting above the line be introduced for Senate elections, while retaining the option of compulsory preferential voting below the line.”

    To explain the meaning of this, let me place before my reader the Senate ballot paper for NSW for October 2004. There are 28 party boxes above the black line. There are candidate names below that line which is known as “the ballot line”.

    Under the reasonably sensible provisions applying in 2004, the voter could place a single number 1 above the line or could place the numbers 1 to 78 below the line.

    What the Liberal Party, the Democrats and the Greens would want you to be required to do is either “Place the numbers 1 to 28 in order of your preference for the parties” or “Place the numbers 1 to 78 in order of your preference for the candidates”.

    Such a change would massively drive up the informal vote.

    Why do we have this Faustian pact between the Liberal Party, the Democrats and the Greens? The Liberal Party wants to drive up the informal vote because that advances its electoral interests.

    The Democrats and the Greens are in the business of punishing Family
    First because, in their view, Steve Fielding won a seat in Victoria that they believe he should not have won.

    These politicians will vehemently deny my assessment. They will concoct plausible-sounding arguments to suggest they are motivated by democratic theory. To get a flavour of what to expect, read chapter nine.

    Lack of space prevents me from a full explanation of why I call chapter nine a disgrace. I content myself with three points.

    First, the chapter (page 230) grotesquely mis-describes the system of “first past the post” in an attempt to justify the prejudices of many of our politicians.

    Second, the chapter (pages 208, 210, 214 and 226) commits a real howler in using the term single transferable vote in a way that is not only internally inconsistent but flies in the face of the international literature on electoral systems.

    Third, the chapter gives some objections to the current (reasonably sensible) system of group voting tickets and then (page 216) says: “The decision of the Family First party in some states to favour a preference distribution to other minor parties that advocated policies radically at variance with Family First’s declared core values, may be an example of this type of strategic behaviour, and its consequences.”

    No evidence is given. However, the main value of this sentence (not intended, of course) is that the politicians have given themselves away as to their target.”

    This only confirms my suspicion that Senator Brandis’ comment was no mistake.

    FFP are a target alright.

    Never ever make the mistake of getting in bed with Howard. He’ll screw FFP, just as he did Hansen and Lees, to satisfy his own political pleasure. Then leave them back on the street looking for someone else to love them.

    A little bit of power for FFP is acceptable to him, so long as he can use it to advance his own political agenda. But he doesn’t want FFP to have too much, for fear it might not be exercised in his favour. Clearly he never expected Steve Fielding to get elected, for fear he might be expected to make good on Family Impact Statements.

    Be alarmed John.. be very much alarmed !

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