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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 231


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (15:54): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

We are incredibly fortunate in Australia to have an electoral system that is the envy of many other countries in the world. All Australians are able to take it for granted that our elections are rigorously monitored and that our system will stand up to scrutiny.

However, the most recent 2013 Senate elections have left many voters disillusioned. Setting aside the issues with the recount in Western Australia, the complex preference deals exchanged between parties left voters unsure of where their votes would eventually end up. Equally, the significant number of candidates in each state made it difficult for people to cast their vote below the line.

Voters, already confused and disheartened, lost further faith in the system once the results came in. For the first time, the system revealed the extent to which it can be manipulated through preference deals, with two candidates being elected with less than one per cent of the primary vote. It was this so-called 'gaming' in New South Wales in 1999 that led to the overhaul of the state electoral system for Legislative Council elections, a model on which this bill is based.

In a recent panel discussion as part of the Third Biennial Electoral Regulation Workshop in Brisbane earlier this year, Michael Maley of the ANU raised the following two points regarding preference deals:

"First, the exchanges of preferences in a preference harvest are basically pragmatic, rather than reflecting an ideological alignment of the cooperating parties. Secondly, there would appear to be a widespread sense (backed by considerable anecdotal evidence) that many (though not all) of the parties which take part in preference harvesting have little underlying substance, and exist merely to get onto the ballot paper a slogans party name which it is thought might attract a small but potentially useful contribution to the harvest."

The current voting system can lead to complex and unexpected outcomes that do not reflect the overwhelming will of the voters. The solution outlined in this bill is relatively simple.

The aim of this bill is to reform the current system to remove group voting tickets for the Senate—essentially preference deals—and make it easier for voters to demonstrate their democratic will.

The bill establishes an optional preferential system above and below the line. It maintains the structure of the existing ballot paper, with group squares above the line and individual candidate squares below the line. Voters will be able to number either one or more squares above the line, or at least as many squares as there are vacancies to be filled below the line.

Candidates wishing to register as a group will still get a square above the line, and will be able to determine the order in which their candidates appear on the ballot paper. As such, when a person votes above the line, it is taken that the voter has assigned their preferences to the candidates in the order in which they appear on the ballot paper. The voter will also be able to number any further squares above the line that they wish, assigning further preferences to other groups.

So, for example, if a voter numbers three squares above the line, their vote will be counted as follows:

Firstly, to the first candidate listed on the ballot paper for the group voting square the voter has numbered 1;

Secondly, to any other candidates listed under in the group voting square the voter has numbered 1, in the order those candidates appear on the ballot paper;

Thirdly, to the first candidate listed on the ballot paper for the group voting square the voter has numbered 2;

Fourthly, to any other candidates listed under in the group voting square the voter has numbered 2, in the order those candidates appear on the ballot paper;

Fifthly, to the first candidate listed on the ballot paper for the group voting square the voter has numbered 3;

Lastly, to any other candidates listed under in the group voting square the voter has numbered 3, in the order those candidates appear on the ballot paper.

Alternatively, if a voter chooses to number candidate squares below the line, they must number at least as many squares as there are vacancies to be filled. Therefore, the voter will be required to number at least 6 squares on a state ballot paper for a half Senate election, 12 for a full Senate election, or the corresponding numbers for territory elections. The voter may also number as many squares beyond that minimum as they wish; they do not have to number all the squares for their vote to be valid, although they may do so if they choose.

The votes will be counted according to the current system. However, as a voter does not have to indicate a preference for all candidates (as exists under the current system, either through numbering all the squares below the line or by indicating the desire to follow a group ticket through voting above the line), votes are more likely to 'exhaust'; that is, all preferences may be allocated without enough candidates achieving the required quota. If this is the case, the remaining candidates with the highest votes will be elected to fill the remaining vacancies.

This system has already been tested in New South Wales for the Legislative Council elections and has proven to be successful, with 15.6 per cent of voters directing more than one preference above the line.

I would like to acknowledge ABC election analyst Antony Green, Professor Clement Macintyre of Adelaide University and Professor Dean Jaensch, formerly of Flinders University, for their invaluable assistance.

Australian voters find it incredibly difficult to cast a vote according to their beliefs for the Senate, and this must change. We must remember that our voting system should be equally accessible and understandable to someone with limited English or a visual impairment as it is to someone with a degree in political science.

Ultimately, I believe candidates and parties should have to campaign to win votes, not count on a confusing and labyrinthine preferencing system to win a seat. As Antony Green says, the system should reward those who campaign for votes, not deal in preferences.

Senator XENOPHON: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.