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Electoral reform: why stop at the Senate?

The operation of any electoral system, any voting system, should be to clearly and transparently translate the wish of the voter into a parliamentary result.

.. .so said Malcolm Turnbull yesterday as he introduced legislation into parliament aimed at curtailing the potential of independent or micro-party senators to achieve election by stealth – solely through the distribution of preferences.

Nick Xenophon – one of the few cross-benchers who expects to hold his place in the Senate if this legislation is passed, also came out in support of the proposed legislation yesterday, saying:

“I want a Senate voting system that is fair, a Senate voting system that reflects the will of the people, a Senate voting system that takes away from the back room deals and the preference whisperers and gives the power back to the people “

OK. As someone who wrote on the weekend that the power of our vote has been diminished by the operation of our political system, it’s hard to argue with this sentiment. But two quick questions….

What is the actual problem in the make-up of the Senate?

Let’s look beyond Turnbull’s example of Ricky Muir’s miracle election to the Senate with only 0.5% of the primary vote in Victoria – and examine the big picture.

If you look at the primary votes of Australians as whole for the Senate in the 2013 election and allocate them into three main groups – Labor, the LNP and the Minor Parties (including the Greens, micro-parties and independents) – it turns out there is indeed a discrepancy between the percentage of votes received and the number of seats allocated.

In fact each of those ‘groups’ received roughly a third of the primary votes. One group – the LNP – got slightly more than a third (37%), and another – the Labor party – slightly less (30%). So, for the allocation of seats in the Senate to be a true representation of the will of the Australian people as a whole – based on our primary votes at least, which is where Turnbull is focusing his attention – you would expect each of these ‘groups’ to have won roughly a third of the seats.

However that’s not the case. It turns out that the Minor Parties received one in three votes, but were allocated just over one in four seats (27.5%) in the Senate. The winners were actually the LNP and the Labor parties, who between them won 72.5% of the seats in the Senate with only 67% of the vote.

So, the current method used to determine the allocation of seats in the Senate is – as Turnbull suggested – not ‘translating the wish of the voter into parliamentary results’. However to rectify the situation, any changes made should arguably result in a greater allocation of seats to Minor Parties – and not a lesser one.

What about the House of Representatives?

Since our pollies are moving swiftly to fix this so-called ‘transgression’ against democracy in the Senate in the name of protecting the integrity of our votes, you’d have to assume they’d be equally as concerned about any problem in the House of Representatives.

Not so much. As I wrote on the weekend, the House of Representatives is more ‘representish’ than representative, and seems to be suffering from the same sort of problems that the Senate is – only on an even grander scale.

In the last Federal Election in 2013, again looking at the primary vote of Australians across the country for the House of Representatives, only 45% of Australian voters – yes, less than half of us – picked the LNP first to be in government. And yet, the LNP ended up with 59% of the seats thanks – at least in part – to the help of the much-maligned preferential voting system. The same preferential system in fact that got Ricky Muir elected in the Senate.

Conversely, the Minor parties and Independents – who received just over 21% of primary votes – ended up with just 3% of the seats.

So what’s really going on?

Turnbull and Xenophon are right. Our current voting structure does not result in a parliament that is representative of what the Australian people as a whole want. But if the driver behind the Electoral Reform legislation was truly concern for our democratic rights, then they’d be looking at far greater reforms across both the House of Representatives as well as the Senate. Instead, they are arguably putting measures in place to fix a threat to their power bases.

The Senate is supposed to be the House of Review not the House of the Rubber-stamp. The method of election and term of Senators is different to MPs so that the Senate can act as a watch dog, a fail-safe to ensure that the Australian people – all Australian people – have a voice.

A representative democracy is not supposed to be a set-and-forget arrangement. Despite what many politicians and their good pal Rupert Murdoch would have you believe, a truly representative democracy is not a political system where any one political party should be able to do whatever they want without question. There are supposed to be checks and balances in place so that politicians have to talk and consult with all MPs and Senators – and not just those within their own party. All MPs and all Senators are duly elected representatives of the Australian people, and all deserve a say and a vote – not just those on the government side of the House.

In my opinion, the current Senate has been doing exactly what it is supposed to do – reviewing and questioning, and where appropriate, compromising. I may not agree with every one of their decisions, but at least they are doing their job and not passing legislation from the House of Representatives without challenge or question.

While the proposed Senate Electoral reform legislation will – according to election analyst Antony Green at least – result in a voting system that does more accurately reflect what voters want in the Senate, it’s still falls way short of being the system Turnbull and Xenophon claim it will be – one which “reflects the will of the people” across our democracy. And if it results in the Senate becoming a rubber-stamp for whatever the current government wants, then our democracy will be much weaker and not stronger.

(This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.)

Note: the numbers reflecting the percentage of seats won by each party in the Senate were adjusted 9 hours after they were originally published to fix an error identified by a reader! Thanks for the pickup.


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  1. Pingback: Electoral reform: why stop at the Senate? – » The Australian Independent Media Network | SUSAN'S SPACE

  2. gangey1959

    The prime minister’s nefarious plottings in Federal Parliament yesterday, which were no less ‘backroom’ than those he is of the opinion the Australian Voter should be saved from with his new plans, showed just how desperate to cling to their seats our leading politicians really are. Di Natale and Xenephon, if they decide to go with the new plan, are just shooting themselves in the arse, because as soon as the micro parties and true independents are gone, they are next.
    It’s just like motor racing. When the privateers catch up to the factory teams, the factory teams tell the sponsors that the rules need to be changed, and turdbullshitartist is trying to engineer the same thing here. If the alp, the Greens and Nicky X go with it, there goes any chance of ever really fixing Australian politics.
    What ‘We the Voter’ should have is the ability to distribute our preferences (in both houses) just as far as we want to, after a minimum of 5 votes. (After that who gives a toss anyway.) Voting should always be compulsory, and in my opinion on the same date every five years. Three years is only just long enough for the lnp to keep blaming their predecessors for their current failures, but not long enough to achieve anything before going back to the polls again.
    PS. I worked out why the lnp are more of a rabble than usual while watching parliament last night. They all wear different coloured ties.
    The pm was in yellow (apt really), and the rest were all over the shop.
    PPS. The new speaker has to stop looking sideways at aunty bronny for direction. It’s a dead giveaway that he hasn’t got a clue, and the “um, er, ah, that’s not what I meant when I said, you can’t tell me what to do I’m mr speaker, please mr pm will you close question time I’m lost and scared” is just an embarrassment. At least bronny has balls.
    Let’s see what today brings. I can’t wait.

  3. Shaun Newman

    Personally I do not like references from yanks, we have enough yank influence in our community as it is. However that said the theme you illustrate is of genuine concern, I have shared your article to facebook for more comments from hopefully people who are more in tune with society than I am, well written, congratulations on your work.

  4. Mick

    It was terribly sad watching the Libs in opposition trashing Julia Gillard’s minority government, convincing people that pluralism and policy negotiations were the antithesis to democracy. People bought it, but only because it was so cheap.

  5. Shaun Newman

    gangey 1959 I couldn’t agree more with your opinion, you seem to have worked things out beautifully, every 5 years on the same date would be a great initiative, except if the tories win, they could do an awful lot of damage in 5 years, as we are witnessing inj the UK.

  6. Michael Taylor

    A well-measured argument, Kate.

  7. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Well said Kate. Thank goodness you are one voice for reasonable representation in our parliamentary system.

    The Senate is not a rubber-stamp for the House of Representatives.

    Well said, gangey too.

  8. diannaart

    Thanks for this article, Kate.

    Had been trying to get my head around the ‘what’s in it for me’ for the LNP (and Labour and Greens) – the powerful do not change rules to empower others.

    Seems to me the powerful are simply trying to control even more than they already do. Real life is not predictable, controllable, it is often messy and a diverse senate (and Lower house) is more able to deal with the unexpected; yet the born-to-rule mob never get this. While I agree that the preference system needs a good overhaul, the changes should reflect the diversity of our nation not just the big guys.

    Very disappointed the Greens are supporting this – one would think they would be in favour of diversity…

    If changes need to be made there should be, as the author noted, a more representative method of selection not less.

  9. Jaquix

    Maybe the Labor Party could take the bull by the horns, and in response to this very self-interested proposal from the Liberals, make an election promise of calling a Royal Commission into the whole electoral system (starting with pre-selection procedures), including this latest thought bubble of Malcolms. I get that the proposal sounds fair, and certainly those monster ballot papers reflect a system gone mad. However, the result of the last election gave us a small crop of newbies who have really risen to the challenge and performed well. If we hadnt had them, Abbott and now Malcolm & Co. would have got through all those slashing cuts they put into their first 2 budgets, totally against all Abbott had said beforehand. Plus goodness knows what else they would have come up with. We need more Independents, not less. If Bill Shorten can do that, I think Australians will appreciate it, because clearly Malcolm Turnbull has shown he is not to be trusted.

  10. flohri1754

    I agree …. with both the main column and a lot of the comments afterwards, most especially with Jaquix immediately above. The Senate has done its job over the last couple of years and has saved Australia from a lot of damage that Abbott and Company were trippingly going to do to it IF they had been allowed to do so …..

  11. Keitha Granville

    How dare the Greens and Xenophon agree with the PMs new ideas – how the hell do they think they ever got in ? Talk about short memories. They’ll be surprised at the long memories of the voting public, especially those who always voted Green. The major parties “arrange” their candidates according to factions, so we don’t get the ones we wanted anyway. It’s all a huge swindle so for the PM to have the balls to say it will be more democratic, blah blah blah – give me strength !

  12. JeffJL

    @Gangley1969. A minimum of 5 votes, is that not what the proposed change is about. Allowing numbering above the line to be more than just the single digit? My issue with this proposal is that if people are not required to put a number in all the boxes above the line then their vote is likely to be wasted/discarded. A step on the way to first past the post voting.

    I have read that Anthony Green (I think) that they expect that even with the proposed option of up to six preferences that 80% will still just put a ‘1’ in the party of their choice.

    My biggest compliant is that the parliament can change the voting method for the next election. Any changes to the voting method should not come into effect until, say five years, after the change has been legislated. The only exception being to return to the previous model should something prove to be wrong with the new system.

    Disclosure. I am one of the few who fill in every box below the line.

  13. diannaart


    I think you meant to say “complaint” not so much with the “compliant” 🙂

    I agree – a delay of a term in government on many a change would sort the opportunism from the needed.

    Speaking of mistakes – my bad – Labor has not jumped on board with the Greens and Xenophon – probably because the Greens are for Turnbull’s suggestion. Do wish Greens and Labor would get over themselves.

    As for Xenophon – not really so surprised – he is more ambitious than he is a servant of the people.

  14. JeffJL

    @diannaart. Curse you grammar nazi.

  15. Bernie Dehmel

    read this with interest (as I read most of what the AIMN releases and passes my way to my inbox and FB feed) and I think that perhaps the changes being presented might not all together be a bad thing… Firstly, nothing changes unless something changes and although I agree with the sentiment that we “be looking at far greater reforms across both the House of Representatives as well as the Senate” I also believe that change happens in increments and always seems tediously or awfully, slow. I read this article the other day that helped me to ‘moderate’ my expectations regarding the changes necessary (across a wide spectrum) and be mindful of the old adage of boiling the frog slowly. That article I refer to is here: I also think that part of “the fire” that Ol Abe was referring to, might include all of those processes necessary to effect change and even though some of the ideas or topics (suggested changes) raised might be ‘too hot to handle’… might not mean that it’s a bad thing. Having said that, I do like to think that I’m not completely naive about these things though either. As I’m 58 YO I’ve seen a lot of elections come and go (all over the world) and I’ve listened to the pollies while they profess their desires to make our world a better place and although I wouldn’t lump them all into the same basket, I believe for the most part (our current entrenched system) shows that they usually don’t ‘offer’ us anything on one hand, without taking with the other. The ones that protest the loudest, are the ones that bear the most constant in critical monitoring… On a different note (but not too much so…) I’m glad the Greens are doing (their deals) their hardest to work best within what has become (as far as I can see) a completely corrupted system. I see a couple of deft operators there while I see the stagnancy (and those trying to maintain the (Status Quo) that’s crept into the other two major parties. A total shake up is required I agree but lets make use of the opportunities that present themselves to us and ‘steer’ them (these incremental changes) in the best direction possible which is away from the intended direction of those currently in the drivers seat and if that means, steering them into the ditch, then that’s a good thing, because maybe while extricating ourselves, we wind up on the better road and if some of us can manage to help this come to pass, then perhaps the rest of the populous will awaken from their morass and help us relieve them (the current drivers) of their licenses (y) just my way of thinking anyway 🙂

  16. diannaart

    @ JeffJL

    I thought you made a simple typo – you mean it was YOUR actual spelling?


  17. Ella

    JeffJL, I agree and support your disclosure, I too fill in every box below the line and have always done so.;
    Those of you who understand our Constitution better than I do…and I have tried.
    Why can’t we have the Senate made up totally of independents with NO affiliation to any political party?

    I say :
    KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF THE VOTING SYSTEM FOR THE SENATE till you have put forward concrete fair proposals and presented them to the electorate at large in a referendum.

    This issue is far more important than same sex marriage ….which will happen any way !
    NB: I support same sex marriage.

  18. Sadenile

    The system allows lazy people to opt out of the preferential vote by giving their preferences to the party for distribution. (Wonder if dinatale remembers the greens dealings??) This abrogation is in return for not making any effort to understand and evaluate the senator candidates. The fairest solution is for a mix of of above and below line where the voter puts all candidates in order or some and finish of marking the next number above the line which will allow the computer to complete the ballot paper using the party preferences. This is not a difficult program to create.
    Dianaart, you are easy on the loonies, who have been unabashed in their honesty. Well after a series of secret deals with the boys of the coalition, dinatale has astounded me with his hypocrisy. Who would have thought a party that thrives on preference deals would be a party to a shabby underhand pact with a shabby underhand government.
    Still I have never felt the greens were anything but ambitious loonies. Arguably, under dinatali, they have ramped up the ambition, exaggerated the lunacy and, with such hypocrasy, are in danger of losing what credibility they have left.
    ps Dianaart, “Labour”, are you british?

  19. diannaart

    DianNaart, “Labour”, are you british

    Curse you autospell-check.

    And deepest apologies for not blaming the Greens more than I blame Labor – will try to get my ‘hate’ braincells in working order.


    Sadenile – been contributing here at AIM for very long?

  20. Al

    The trouble with Senate voting is that most voters (95% of us) will vote above the line, thus letting that party distribute preferences according to their wheeling and dealing with other parties. That power is lost if the voter numbers every box below the line. Even then, the voting system will be imperfect, as all voting systems must be. I vote above the line myself, but in the knowledge of where my vote will go (having checked on the AEC site, and at the polling booth). I think it would be a good thing if the individual voter had some easy way to influence preferences: I think the easiest would be to simply allow any consecutive numbers (starting at 1) either above or below the line. If the ballot still needs to be counted after the voter’s preferences are exhausted, the party’s internal system takes over. Anybody who’s done some voting research knows that no system is perfect, but ideally you want a system which (a) gives voters the illusion that their vote counts, and (b) has disadvantages which you can live with.

    Did you know, for example, that with the STV system we use in the Lower House here, it’s quite possible that if some voters changed the order of preferences on their ballots, then the now lower ranked candidate will in fact do better? Thus STV is not “monotonic” – the order of votes on the ballots is not necessarily translated into order of candidates.

  21. Kate M

    Thanks for the comments all. I note there’s been some developments today in Labor’s position on this – so it will be interesting to see where we end up.

    AI – I was thinking about the impact of complexity on the Senate outcome this afternoon. Antony Green wrote an interesting article yesterday on the new legislation where he states that he is surprised that they haven’t allowed people to vote for a lesser number of people below the line in Senate and still have their vote count. The fact that they haven’t suggests that they are really more interested in encouraging people to vote above the line.

    I was unaware of the STV system – thanks for the headsup.

  22. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Might I show my ignorance and have STV spelt out and explained please?

    In my discussion with Rachel Siewert today, she supported the Greens stance on why they support the changes to the above-the-line proposal. There seemed to be some reasonable analysis involved but I tend to favour either the extended or limited below-the-line options more, as they are NOT necessarily major party aligned and especially not the LNP. – at this stage at least
    As I profess I said on Twitter to Di Natale, if you lie with the LNP dogs, expect to get fleas. (And I like dogs but not the LNP variety.) 🙂

  23. Al

    STV = Single Transferable Vote, another name for IRV (Instant run-off voting), which is the system we use in the Lower House: all candidates are ranked by the voters, and the candidate with the lowest number of first place preferences is eliminated and those votes passed on to those voters’ second preferences, etc. I wrote about all this years ago: I suppose I could always write up a bit more… It’s a fabulous subject voting, and incredibly murky, both politically and mathematically.

  24. Steve Laing

    Great article! The problem with representative democracy (which realistically is the best way to achieve something that is effective) is that it has been gamed by political parties (particularly large ones) who simply try to squash debate and simply try to bully for results. And that doesn’t make for good decision making. Independents and small parties are the only ones that have any chance of applying any degree of conscience on behalf of the populace to the current democratic process. The big parties are simply too tied into power for powers sake, and as Tony Abbott so eloquently put it (though I think he lied on this one too), are quite prepared to do anything short of selling their arse, to achieve that power. Power, not good policy, has become the goal, and it makes for very poor governance. And many of the people can quite clearly see that.

  25. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Beautifully stated Steve Laing.

    I support the best system that gives micro-parties and Independents (esp sane ones) their voice to the public to choose from.

  26. Kate M

    Jennifer- thanks for the update re the Greens. (I’m scratching just thinking about it though…)

    Al – LOVE the numbers blog and the info you’ve shared. Would also love to see any future articles you write on this 🙂

    Steve – agree completely. I think it’s time to bring democracy into the 21st century. The current model was dreamed up when the only form of communication/connection was person to person, and so sending a representative was really the only practical way to manage a democracy of any size. But it has lead to a situation where the political parties have locked the power up and spend their whole time working out how to get power and keep power instead of doing what we pay them to do – governing! That said – I’m not anti-party, as they parties are a practical way to get stuff done and share around the expertise. But there needs to be a balance between the power held by the parties and the power held by us, the voters. And right now – we come second.

  27. Al

    Oops – mistake! STV is used in the Senate, IRV (also called the Alternative Vote) in the lower house. If STV was used to elect just one candidate, rather than many, then it would collapse to IRV. Too many abbreviations, too late on a hot evening (I’m in Melbourne!).

  28. nurses1968

    I just got this email from a friend who is in Canberra today

    “Labor will oppose the coalition government’s proposed changes to the Senate voting system.
    The Labor caucus today supported a shadow cabinet decision to oppose the legislation and add an amendment calling for tighter rules on political donations.
    The caucus heard 3.3 million people voted for minor parties at the 2013 election and the new laws would lead to their preferences being exhausted.
    Labor’s opposition to the bill, introduced to parliament on Monday, means the government will have to seek the support of the Greens to pass
    Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen told reporters “when the Liberals and the Greens do a deal to improve Liberal and Green representation in the Senate, presumably so they can do more deals on things like multinational tax, watering down disclosure, part pensions, etc, then the Labor Party has every right as do the Australian people to be very concerned.”

  29. Steve Laing

    Personally I’ve given up on parties, though I think that people of like mind will group together. The party has become an institution, as much tied up with making money for elections as for defining policy (and the LNP apparently just seem to outsource that role). As you say, modern communication is now cheap and effective, such that pollies don’t need cash for vast advertising campaigns (which don’t inform, but simply push propaganda anyway). Let them write blogs, or make video blogs to let us see what kind of people our prospective members are. Currently most voters only support the team, irrespective of the quality of the player. It’s why the cross bench is far more useful than the average party hack.

  30. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    So @stevelaing @10.06pm,

    if the individual candidate does not attract any contributory dollars for the welfare of their constituents, where does the money go? Only bloody blind Freddie wouldn’t see (politically incorrect yes.)

    Money goes to the individual needs of political reps whomever they represent. Good on those who fight this self-interested democratic system. My support is for you whoever you represent, if for the common good.

    Democracy in Australia is broken.

    Time to FIX it!

    see AusProgressives

  31. Steve Laing

    You can set up a website these days for a couple hundred bucks. Cheaper if it was centralised and a standard template issued. I did one myself, where I’ve tried to develop the ideas why party politics doesn’t work, and suggested a working alternative. It was well in progress until work commitments got in the road, but I hope to have time to get back in the saddle soon and finish it. It’s open to comment, and suggestions for improvement as it is very much a work in progress, and could do with some critical review!

  32. corvus boreus

    Jennifer Meyer-Smith (7:29),
    Did Ms Siewert have anything lucid to say on why the hell the Greens did not push for ‘below-the-line’ reform (esp a limited preference option), which was much more obviously needed and would have been far less controversial with the ‘minors’?

  33. Kaye Lee

    I agree cb. Why can’t we have the option to number 1 to 20 (or whatever number the AEC deems necessary) below the line? I don’t like the order the parties put sometimes. eg Abetz is number 1 on the ticket in Tasmania. And the Joe Bullock debacle. So if I want to change that, I have to number up to 100 or more. What is the point in that?

  34. corvus boreus

    Kaye Lee,
    To be honest, I think the whole point of maintaining the current ‘all below the line’ rule is precisely to discourage voters from choosing this ‘option’, which lets parties and vote-brokers continue to play their cynical games with ATL gumby-vote preferences.
    It is all about the parties and screw the bloody voter.
    Not happy at all.

  35. Al

    In terms of “fixing” what seems to many to be a broken system for electing representatives to Parliament, and indeed in having a representative democracy with career politicians instead of local representatives, you could do worse than check out This is an online system (developed in Argentina) for group decision making and debate, and has already been used to considerable effect in Argentina, Mexico, Tunisia and Kenya (according to its website). It seems to me to be one of the best current tools, along with another tool called Loomio (from New Zealand) at The main obstacle to the use of these tools is, I think, a general level of political apathy. But maybe such a grassroots approach is what Australia needs?

    Oh, and by the way, and I should have said this when I first joined the discussion – great article, Kate! Clear, concise, and a very well-informed discussion of what is a fairly abstract topic (voting and vote-counting).

  36. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    corvus boreus,

    with respect to Ms Siewert, I did ask why not go for ‘below-the-line’ reform of voting for the Senate because the micro parties and Independents are necessary to democracy.

    She countered with the party line of support for above-the-line so that it would cut out the ‘preference whisperers’ who they claim manipulate our choices in preference swaps whereas she was arguing the proposed preferences above-the-line would represent voters’ wishes more directly.

    Unfortunately time ran out before I could pursue questioning on how we could avoid manipulation of above-the-line preferences. But I’ve been told I can ring again for another discussion.

  37. Kaye Lee


    That makes no sense. If you vote below the line you allocate your own preferences. That’s the whole point.

  38. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I think she was alluding to Druery, who helped to get Muir in.

  39. Kaye Lee

    No doubt, but he becomes irrelevant if people vote below the line so if she said that, she doesn’t understand.

  40. Sadenile

    DianNaart, sorry no autocue just carelessness although I am a supporter of both artemis and diana as worthy gods.
    Good to see you understand the connection between the greens who talk like they oppose but vote with the rabbott and his successors and labor who don’t usually talk like they oppose. Although, in this case, shorten et al seem to oppose the changes.
    As for contributions I used to be eli nes till I offended the crow and our lord. Then I morphed into sen nearly ile and continued my offence. Now being a combination of sad at the pragmatic slewing of green ideals deep into hypocrisy, pragmatism as explainers for deviation and ambition and the inaction of labor. It is sADenile all the way.
    A further sadness is that I am a poor player who sends in dribble to the drivel served by those here who are intelligently wondering what dinatale is up to by curtailing preference deals rather than allowing voters to vote for the candidates/party they want, leaving the preferences to the PARTY.
    The turnballistas can bleat all they want but the minor parties are just as free to use their preferences as labor, the nats and the libs and why one minor party would seek to deprive others from that right is bloody disgraceful.

  41. Ricardo29

    I agree with so much of what has been both written and commented, yep I know the comments are written too, but I am very happy that however it happened, we got a cross bench with enough thoughtful people to stop some of the worst excesses of Abbott et al. I know some are real weirdos but even some of those have come good. I too am distressed at the greens going flea-catching, and disappointed that Xenophon turns out to just another politician. I wonder if the cross benchers could/should align under a single party, the ‘Existing Senate Crossbenchers’ Party, and give themselves a chance at an above the line pick.

    Could I also have a linguistic whinge? The past tense of lead is led.

  42. nurses1968

    Kaye Lee or Jennifer
    I am a bit naive politically but this Druery fellow, the so called “preference whisper” didn’t he just assist the micro parties to better utilise their preferences and worked with them to achieve this?
    All legal I understand, so what is the difference with what the Greens did in the same election?
    This, from Crikey
    “The Greens’ right-wing preference strategy in South Australia has come home to roost with a re-elected Sarah Hanson-Young gifting Tony Abbott’s good mate and conservative Family First candidate Bob Day the Senate balance of power.
    Senior party powerbrokers, including Brown, resigned Christine Milne chief-of-staff Ben Oquist and Hanson-Young herself decided to throw ideology to the wind in South Australia, placing the Palmer United Party and Katter’s Australian Party ahead of Labor and other micros ahead of Nick Xenophon’s No. 2 candidate Stirling Griff. The approach angered Labor with senior figures now extremely reticent to deal again with the Greens in 2016 — a scenario that if rolled out nationally could deny the party a single Senate seat.

    It has also caused consternation inside the Greens with other states irate at the perverse consequences of “dealing with the devil”.

  43. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    ‘What is good for the goose is good for the gander.’ I support the rights of the micro parties to seek political representation of community supporters. I prefer the variety that go under the banner ‘Alliance for Progress’ see

    If that doesn’t fit well with either of the LIB/LAB majors or the Greens, then bad luck. Greater diversity of principles and values is the goal for the 21st Century.

  44. nurses1968

    Jennifer Meyer-Smith
    I just checked out your link, thanks,it’s good to see them coming together on like issues
    Given they are all small parties with obviously limited resources, don’t you think that Druery fellow is doing them a service in helping them best utilise their resources and preferences ?
    Why do the Greens and Xenophon Parties see that as so wrong?

  45. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I’m not sure myself, nurses1968, why the Greens and Xenophon Parties would oppose greater diversity of political representation.

    If they are not careful, their opposition will bite them on the backside, especially when seen as siding with the LNP Degenerates, who will crucify them after.

  46. Kaye Lee

    Druery did nothing wrong. Nor did the microparties. The current senate voting system was brought in because the major parties thought it would favour them. Now that others have worked out how to use the system to their advantage, the Libs and Greens and Xenophon want to change it. The obvious reform would be limited preferential voting below the line.

  47. corvus boreus

    Jennifer M-S.
    Sounds like Ms Siewert spouted some patronising party crap and avoided the question regarding below the line reform.
    It makes me suspect that the Greens do not want voters having a simple option to allocate their own preferences, either.
    Completely unsatisfactory.

  48. nurses1968

    corvus boreus
    I have noticed your comments regularly on the Senate reform issue.
    From memory when I last voted it had the Parties above the line, their individual candidates in order below the line and Independents all jumbled together.
    If all of the big Parties have 6 candidates each below the line listed I figure this is what makes the ballot paper so large

    Now, I’m a novice but I assume those who vote above the line couldn’t care less who the six candidates listed below each Party were .
    What if they did away with the line and actually listed just the party and the Independents and micros by name only {not candidates other than for Independents} and had a minimum number of 20 selections before it was informal.
    It would shrink the paper in size, give every party/individual equal coverage and be fairer {IMHO}
    If it was 20 you had to mark, the preferences of the 20th party would continue till exhausted.
    I dont think those who follow party line care who number 3 or 4 are and would follow the ticket anyway, if they had to .
    Just an idea, but I hate what the LNP/Green/Xenophon Coalition are doing believe the micros deserve a chance at at least getting elected .
    I am an above the line Labor voter, but I do thing people have a right to vote for micros whatever their ideas are .
    Probably wouldn’t work but I would appreciate your thoughts

  49. corvus boreus

    That would not give party affiliated voters the choice to go outside their own party order of candidates, which some voters might want to do.
    Eg many WA Labor supporters would probably like to have been able to put Louise Pratt over Joe Bullock in the last election without having to number all the squares.
    What about if they just implemented the actual ‘limited below-the-line preferencing’ option recommended by the reform committee, which only required voters to fill out ‘BTL’ to the number of senate places available?

  50. nurses1968

    excuse my ignorance, how many is that?
    I woul like some change but figure 20 isn’t too many to number and gives people options to include a good mix of micros, majors independents if they wish

    p.s. sorry,it may seem a simple question but if you don’t ask, you don’t learn

  51. corvus boreus

    12 senate seats per state, 2 per territory.
    (1/2 that in 1/2 senate elections)

  52. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    corvus boreus @1.27pm,

    it might sound like that to you but the fact is I asked the question and even though, I didn’t get the time to discuss that relevance of the third option of below-the-line, a politician heard it from the horse’s mouth that I’m disappointed that the Greens appear in the public view to have sided with the LNP.

    Even though I am reliably informed that the Greens have been calling for Senate reforms for 10 years or more, their timing is pathetic because it plays into the hands of the lascivious LNP to advantage the major parties at the expense of the micro parties.

    This unfortunately puts the Greens into a poor light either as sell-outs to major party selfish power tactics or as simpletons for doing the LNP’s dirty work by assisting the changes.

    PS Ms Siewert and I spoke for 30 mins on various topics.

  53. Sadenile

    Good one ricardo, xenophon was given his first pollie pension on a ‘no-pokies’ pledge, by the wowsers of SA.
    Then, with that in his pocket, he slimed over to the federal for another pension. In the meantime accumulating a pile of houses(11 I understand) and he lives in none of them.(cynics may surmise if he lives in a spousehouse the rent is paid by the senate)
    In preparation for his retirement, he sits on every possible committee getting thousands in top up money.
    During the last years of little johnnie, he had the balance of power but it wasn’t till wilkie was elected that pokies were an issue. That was WILKIE not xenophon then when slipper took wilkie’s balance away xenophon slipped out of the game.
    SA and the NT are very sad in the pokies brigade but both have been contained by their labor gov.
    In the case of the NT the labor lost gov and within days the pub/club lobby had doubled the number of machines, open the ‘note-feeding’ facility and flagged putting them into Aboriginal communities. In SA, a xenophon party will be disruptive but if it unseats the pynenut, I will be grateful.
    The millions we have paid xenophon for efforts in pokies has been wasted. From my point of view, the simple honesty of lazarus and muir is admirable and desirable, the efforts of lambe and lleyonhjelm outstrip most senators and they have made this senate the most ‘representative swill’ in my memory.
    Vale honesty, vale independence, vale democracy. Vale the loonies ad acta

  54. Al

    Like all voting systems, STV (Single Transferable Vote: what we use for Senate elections) is deeply flawed, and the fact that minor parties can achieve representation is one of its shortcomings. I don’t know if this would be affected by an optional preferential vote. It is also non-monotonic (as is IRV), and vulnerable to “irrelevant alternatives” (easier to look up than explain!). We also in Australia have the curious “countback” system whereby if a senate seat becomes vacant outside of an election (say by death or resignation of the senator), a new vote is simulated by using the ballots cast at the previous election. The best you can hope for any voting system (given of course that some are indeed worse than others) is that voters have the illusion that their vote is being counted appropriately, and that their wishes are included in the final tally.

    STV has been described by some theorists as being “the second worst voting system ever devised” and “quasi-chaotic,…,exceptionally erratic in…operation, producing results that are virtually random”.

    Maybe now’s the time to go grassroots and look at some of the online direct democracy tools such as democracyos (from Argentina), or loomio (from New Zealand).

  55. Rramalamilami

    Thanks Al, for showing the ultimate policy making process. It is clearly needed when there is insufficient wind to use the current turnball method of ‘running it up the flag to see who salutes’.
    Without the ravages of party politics, which interferes with the STV system in above the line abrogation of preferences, the single vote transfer gives us a greater freedom of choice than any other system. When we add compulsory preferential voting we are a country mile ahead of the argentinians and the kiwis put together.

  56. JeffJL

    “We also in Australia have the curious “countback” system whereby if a senate seat becomes vacant outside of an election (say by death or resignation of the senator), a new vote is simulated by using the ballots cast at the previous election.”

    Hey Al. I would check your sources. Casual senate replacements are made by the relevant state or territory. The convention is they replace like for like. i.e. Labor for Labor and LNP for LNP.

  57. Wayne Johnson

    politicians only want to change the voting system to suit themselves

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