Senator Nick Xenophon says the current Senate voting system represents the will of the parties, not the people, and just days after the election has vowed to introduce legislation to overhaul the process.
After micro-party candidates with microscopic levels of first preference support look like sharing the balance of power in the upper house, Xenophon has promised to introduce a bill in the next parliament to abolish ‘above the line’ voting, where people vote for one party and leave it to that party to dictate where the voter’s preferences go.
Currently a voter either places the number one in a single box above the line, and accepts that party’s order of preferences, or numbers every box below the line.
On the NSW Senate ballot paper in 2013 there were 110 candidates. In Victoria and Queensland the ballot papers contained 97 and 82 candidates respectively.
A complicated preference swapping arrangement between minor parties has seen Australian Sports Party candidate Wayne Dropulich likely to win a Senate spot in WA with a primary vote of just 0.22 per cent, while Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party candidate Ricky Muir is set to win a Senate spot in Victoria with primary support of only 0.51 per cent. A Senate quota is 14.29 per cent.
“Preferences have become so complex that it’s impossible for people to know who they’re really voting for,” said Xenophon this week.
“I’m the first person to say that small parties and independents are good for Australian politics,” he said. “But they – or any candidate – should only be elected if that reflects what voters want.”
Australia’s most successful Independent senator (Xenophon’s performance at the 2013 election broke a national record for an independent or minor party, overtaking the 21.3 per cent recorded in 1980 by Tasmanian senator Brian Harradine) says it is time to do away with the above and below the line voting system, which leads to “ridiculously complicated” preference deals, and requires voters to nominate every party on the ballot paper.
“A better system would be to have only the below the line set-up, but not force voters to number every box. Instead, they would be required to list their first six preferences, and as many as they wanted after that.”
Xenophon received 25.7 per cent of the primary vote in South Australia, out-polling all other candidates except the Liberal Party, which received 27 per cent. However, his running mate Stirling Griff is likely to miss out on a seat due to the ALP preferencing the Liberal Party ahead of him.
“ALP voters are entitled to ask why their party went to Family First and the Liberals before my running mate, who is firmly from the political centre,” said Xenophon.
“When you look at the primary vote, you have to ask whether this is really what South Australians want.”

Neos Kosmos

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