I’ve posted about senate voting reforms before and everything I wrote there still applies, in particular I’m still in broad agreement with Antony Green who has posted about the latest proposals here. Basically the proposal is to do away with group voting tickets, and instead allow optional preferential voting both above and below the line, as well there are some extra conditions on party registration.
I think the proposals are fine. While I prefer full preferential to optional preferential, it is less of an issue in multi-member electorates. I would perhaps prefer a minimum number of votes to be formal but this does complicate things (especially as to what that number would be for above or below, and whether it’s fixed or depends on the total number), so it’s reasonable not to have it. I’m not entirely sure that above the line is still needed if you allow optional preferencing of all candidates anyway (though I think in that case you really would need a minimum number or there could be serious problems). The additional requirement on registration is to have 1500 rather than 500 unique members. I’m not completely sold on this being necessary but I don’t think it’s a particular problem either, a serious party should have no problem with this. Independents can still contest as well.
These reforms should be effective in stopping the virtual lottery that the senate election has become, where preference harvesting effectively elects candidates with very little support in the community. Furthermore this has encouraged lots of people to register parties to “enter the lottery” which only makes the vote more complicated through having massive ballot papers that further discourage people from voting below the line (and also can lead to the sort of confusion where Liberal votes vote LDP and Labor voters vote DLP, a factor which has helped both get elected). It does not stop new parties, if they have enough votes they can still get elected. On the plus side also they did not add extra costs, so a movement with genuine support has no obstacle to forming a party.
There were some proposals which I considered poor which I’m glad to see weren’t recommended. There is no minimum threshold of first preferences to get elected. This is good, because as I pointed out in the previous post, people getting elected off a small first preference isn’t the problem, the problem was preference harvesting which made this happen more often when it wasn’t really deserved. A scenario where a candidate is not the first prefence of many, but is preferred by a large number of voters who’s higher preferences get eliminated can still get elected (provided they have enough support to stay in the count). The difference now is that they win because people genuinely preferenced them, not because of preference deals.
There are many comments on this article at the Guardian complaining about the proposals. I think partly this is because the Guardian have framed it as the major parties ganging up on the micros, and lots of people just don’t understand preferences. Now of course the fact that all the large parties are in agreement rightly would raise suspicions about their motives, but claims that this is undemocratic are unsupportable. Some are accusing the Greens of selling out on this, which is crazy given that it’s bascially everyone else coming around to what are essentially proposals the Greens have been making for years. It takes the allocation of preferences away from the parties and leaves it up to voters. It gets rid of the random “lottery”, preference harvesting and the power of “preference whisperer” Glenn Druery. It removes any point to setting up fake parties to divert voters away due to a single issue.
This isn’t to say that Labor and Liberal aren’t doing this out of self-interest, but it just so happens that sometimes the self-interest of those in power happens to intersect with what is the right thing to do – after all this is how we ended up with most good features of our voting system, such as preferential voting.
Update: A couple of things I forgot to mention
– some people are claiming this is all about “maintaining the duopoly”. Rubbish. The reason most senators are Labor or Liberal is that most first preferences are for those parties, if enough people vote for other candidates they get elected (Greens, PUP, LDP, Xenophon would still have been elected in the new system, though with LDP there’s a chance that the smaller paper would mean more people would find the actual party they meant to vote for).
– It would be nice if they fixed the Inclusive Gregory issue for surpluses as well. This is a fairly technical point mostly of interest to voting nerds, but basically the way surpluses are allocated is less than ideal because they needed to simplify it when they were counted by hand, now that should not be an issue.