Call for changes to Senate voting system

A parliamentary inquiry has called for the abolition of Senate group voting tickets, the option for voters to use preferential above the line voting and changes to strengthen party registration rules.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has released its report into Senate voting practices as part of its inquiry into the 2013 federal election, which saw candidates from minor parties such as the Australian Sports Party and the Motoring Enthusiast Party gain seats in the Senate.

The election result led to criticism of preference deals between the so called micro-parties which helped them get candidates over the line despite securing only a small number of primary votes.

Committee chair Tony Smith said the recommendations aim to restore choice for voters and reduce opportunities to “game” the system.

“The 2013 federal election will long be remembered as a time when our system of Senate voting let voters down,” he said in the report.

“Combined with pliable and porous party registration rules, the system of voting for a single party above the line and delegating the distribution of preferences to that party, delivered in some cases, outcomes that distorted the will of the voter.

“The Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party received just 0.51 percent of the primary vote, but their candidate was elected to the Senate through ‘gaming’ the system.  Clearly, given the circumstances, this election did not represent the genuine will of the voters.” 

The report has made six recommendations in total including changes to allow for optional preferential above the line voting and partial optional voting below the line. 

It also wants the abolition of group and individual voting tickets and increase of party membership from a minimum of 500 to 1500 in order for it to be registered.

And it says the Government should find a mechanism to ensure that candidates are residents in the state or territory in which they are seeking election. 

If these changes are implemented the committee also wants the Australian Electoral Commission to run an education campaign on the changes. 

“It is critically important that the Parliament considers these recommendations for reform – and legislation to enshrine them into electoral law – as a very high priority,” Mr Smith said.

The report can be found at on the Committee web site.

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