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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1676

Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (18:33): I present the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 and I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I do take note of this report and the important reform that it will provide the Australian electoral system. There has been a great deal of dialogue over this report and this measure, but I do note here in the chamber that what it will provide for the Australian people is the opportunity for them to exercise their vote and their will in terms of where their preferences actually flow. One of the concerns that have been consistently raised with me—and I took part in the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry after the 2013 election—is the fact that Senate voting tickets mean that the backroom deals that are done between political parties mean that voters do not have the choice to provide for where they wish their vote to go unless they fill out every box below the line. Because of the requirements that exist at the moment, in terms of what makes a valid vote, there are many people who do not take the time to do that because of the fear that they will make a mistake and their vote will be invalid.

What this report does is affirm the measures brought in by the government for optional preferential voting above the line, but importantly it also recommends an amendment that there should be optional voting below the line, so people would be encouraged to number between one and 12, or up to 12 places, with the saving provision that six are required for the vote to be formal. What this means is that people, whether it be in a double dissolution or a normal half-Senate election, can make their own choice in a reasonable manner—that is, they do not have to fill out all the boxes—of who they wish to vote for so that there will is actually very accurately represented in the electoral outcome.

We have heard some comments that people's votes will be wasted if minor parties do not get elected. That is no different to a candidate in the lower house or perhaps somebody who is in the fourth or fifth place on their Senate ticket, who stands legitimately—validly. But if they do not get enough support they do not get elected. That vote for a minor party is no more wasted than it is for a candidate in a lower house seat. I have been in the unfortunate position where, as a member, I stood for election and I lost the election. Does that mean that the votes of all those people who voted for me were wasted? No. It meant that in that case the member of the Labor Party who stood, or in fact more particularly his leader, received the support of the majority of people, so he won the election. That is the way democracies work. Votes are not wasted if you do not get elected. This system means that people will be able to put down accurately where they want their vote to go.

If somebody representing a political party an interest group, whether it be motoring or sports or any other group, achieves a large enough percentage of support within the community they will get elected. There is absolutely nothing to bar or stop them getting elected. What this will stop is the practice of multiple parties—we saw after the 2013 election confessions by one of the political parties, in fact one of the senators in this chamber, that he was the public officer of multiple political parties who basically did preference deals with themselves and others in order to maximise the vote they got. This is clearly gaming the system, and that is not democracy as we know it here in Australia. These reforms, which this report supports—with the thrust of the government also making this additional recommendation for voting below the line—provide for the electors of Australia to have their will very explicitly and, importantly, simply translated into the voting system.

One of the unintended consequences of the way the system has operated to date is that, because of this gaming by the minor parties, we see many parties and group voting tickets. This makes voting below the line, which was the only option available to people if they wished to accurately have their will reflected, almost unworkable. This is why you have such a small percentage of people who vote. I am very grateful to those people who at the last election, when I stood, contacted me and let me know that they had taken the time to vote below the line so that they could specifically vote for me. I commend and thank them for that, but I also recognise they are the very small majority because of the task that that huge piece of white paper presented.

What this option and this report will provide from now on is a system where people can, in a manageable manner and time frame—and with very little scope to make errors or to make their vote invalid or informal—reflect where they would like their preferences to go and who they would like to vote for. And so I think this system is actually very democratic and fair. Commentators from universities such as Flinders University and the University South Australia have been saying in the last few days that these reforms are well designed and overdue. I believe they will have the broad support of the people of Australia.