Oh dear! On the one hand, I believe that, for more representative democracy, Senate voting should be reformed, so that it better represents proportionally the wishes of voters. On the other hand, I’ve loved the free thinking, compromises and constructive solutions proposed by the wild collection of independent senators we currently have, few of whom should ever have been elected and few of whom will survive the proposed voting reform. I like the crazy bunch of non-major party senators, even though they are unrepresentative. They have stopped a lot of stupid government proposals (from both major parties).
The purpose of the Senate is to be a ‘house of review’, particularly from a state perspective, as each state elects the same number of senators. Over the past 20 years, I have loved the third parties the independents for bringing different – more reasonable perspectives – to issues that are often classified as simplistic Liberal v Labor, either/or, win/lose, black/white. The worst of legislation proposed by either governing party has been blocked or modified by the alternative, varied views, meaning governments have had to consider reasonable amendments to get their legislation passed in the Senate.
It is clear that Senate voting reform is called for, with the current, ingenious gaming of the preferential system by extremely small minorities. How ironic that the Greens are the ones supporting reform because of principles, when it seems clear their influence will be reduced in any new system. This also happened when the Greens voted on principle with the government to pass the GST legislation (which has clearly been a good taxation solution for the country) and then lost seats as a result.
Probably effects of the new proposals
The ‘above the line’ reforms proposed seem likely to reinforce major party dominance. A ‘1’ for Liberal or Labor will effectively be 5 votes for either, as almost all votes which are surplus to a first quota will go to their second candidate and so on. For example, if you voted ‘1’ for Liberals, ‘2’ for Greens and ‘3’ for Xenophon, hoping to elect one of each, you would in fact be giving all your votes to the Liberal ticket. As each state will likely split 2:2 for Libs and Labour, the 5th seat is likely to be contested between no. 3 on the Libs, no. 3 on Labor and the leading non-major party – probably the Greens (except for SA, where Xenophon has such a huge personal following, he would probably get in).
That is a better representation of democracy at work. But a lot of colour will have disappeared. Several free-speaking, free thinking individuals will be thrown out and, collectively, we will now have only 3 views – Liberals, Labor and Greens – on most issues, with the voting outcomes quite clear.
What unintended consequences could occur?
Could another ‘independent’ party be formed, like the ill-fated Palmer United Party, One Nation or Katter? Could Get Up! – a non-political group of over half a million supporters, run as independents to fill this role? Could a new independent party, with a principled, high profile individual at the top of the ballot in each state (eg a Stan Grant, Andrew Wilkie, Tony Windsor, Geoffrey Cousins, Jacqui Lambie or Eddie Maguire,) attract enough of us anti-major voters to collect a seat in some states? We do know that, in both Victoria and NSW, significant numbers of people are now voting anti-major to elect odd collections to each upper house. The Sex Party, Shooters and Fishers, Democratic Labour, Christian Democrats and Animal Justice have recently been elected there. And there has been little concern at the state level about these small independent parties blocking government policies. And, by the way, minority government is almost the norm in European countries. Is it only English-speaking countries obsessed with the need for a two-party simplified system?
What to do?
I’m really torn. What we need is people who think, who consider facts and evidence, who speak what they believe is truth regardless of personal circumstance, party policy or PR-speak, who are real, acknowledge their errors and vote according to their principles and conscience, not any party platform.
Our current political process is f****d. This is mainly because of the way the current politicians are chosen by their major parties (party aparachiks and staffers without real life experience), coupled with the need to follow the party (no individual speaking allowed) and the huge influence of business-based lobby groups (with the financial and organisational muscle to overwhelm good government policy, such as mining taxes, gaming taxes, negative gearing reductions).
We need independents prepared to stand up for what they think is ‘ right’, being prepared to explain their personal reasons for voting as they do. I’m not confident the proposed new system will deliver that but, equally, the current system is hardly democratically representative. What do you think we should do?