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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Conduct of the 2013 federal election and matters related thereto

GREEN, Mr Antony John, Private capacity

Committee met at 09:03

CHAIR ( Mr Tony Smith ): Welcome. I declare open this public hearing of the Electoral Matters Committee into the 2013 federal election. This inquiry was referred by the Special Minister of State on 5 December 2013 to look at all aspects of the 2013 federal election. The hearing today will address matters in relation to the Senate voting system. I refer members of the media who may be present at this hearing of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee.

Mr Green, as you would be aware from your previous appearances, the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, although we should advise that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as the proceedings in the respective houses. I now invite to you make an opening statement.

Mr Green : I think this committee has been set a very important task. At this election—the 2013 election—some of the reforms introduced by the Hawke government in 1984 had reached a point where they were running into difficulties, could not continue to function and would have to be reviewed. The two issues in particular from those Hawke reforms were, firstly, the introduction of registered political parties and how that process occurs and, secondly, the introduction of ticket voting for the Senate. Both of those reforms were introduced with the best of intentions, and both of them have now reached the point where they being undermined in the process of elections.

For the Senate, the introduction of ticket voting had a very laudable aim and initially met the objective that it was for, which was to cut the level of informal voting in the 1970s—which had been scandalous, and regularly above 10 per cent in some states. That aim was met, and at the time the introduction of ticket voting was seen as little more than a formalisation of their how-to-vote card process. The parties had always handed out how-to-vote cards, and most people tended to follow them. Ticket voting was seen as formalising that process.

However, what nobody had really thought through at the time was that it also gave the power of control over preferences to smaller parties who otherwise would not have had the control. It granted them a power which the major parties already had because of their ability to distribute how-to-vote cards. It granted the power to all the minnows in the game, who could suddenly have power over their preferences.

That has produced deliberate deal-making. In the early days the deals were made with the major parties. In 1984 there were deals made to keep Peter Garrett and the Nuclear Disarmament Party out of the Senate. In 1998 there were agreements between the parties to try to keep Pauline Hanson's One Nation out of the Senate, and the parties used ticket voting in that way. But what we have seen since then is the growth of other parties—the minor parties and the micro-parties—making use of the loopholes in the party registration laws, and then using the ticket voting to actually engineer results. That reached its logical—or illogical—conclusion at the recent election, with the election of parties with less than one per cent of the vote.

Above all, what has been ridiculous in this process is that it has produced the gigantic ballot papers which we saw at the federal election and which presented voters with options where the size of the ballot paper and the range of options started to interfere with their ability to cast a sensible vote. It has produced results that were engineered by the preference deals rather than by the votes cast by voters. I think the case for some sort of reform to that system is compelling. The question is: what form of reform?

First of all I will deal briefly with the party registrations. Party registration has to be toughened. The Commonwealth law is significantly weaker than the laws used in the states. You need 500 members for a federal party; in the state laws you need 500 members in Victoria alone, in New South Wales alone and in Queensland alone. In those states there are also tougher rules on verifying that someone is a member of a party and tougher rules for ongoing registration. All up there is much tighter regulation in the states for parties than in the Commonwealth. At this federal election we saw a 50 per cent increase in the number of registered parties between the start of the year and the calling of the election. We saw a record number of parties, a record number of House candidates and a record number of Senate candidates.

On the Senate: I think what we need to do is to move down the path of putting the control of voting back into the hands of voters. I personally prefer the form of above-the-line voting which is allowed in New South Wales and where voters can indicate their own preferences above the line and the group-ticket votes have been done away with. I do not support the Hare-Clark-style reforms that some people suggest of having Robson rotation and totally limited preferences. The reason I do not support that is that I do think the Senate system is a form of party proportional representation. Hare-Clark is a fantastic system in Tasmania and the ACT and in local government, where it is small-scale and people know the candidates. You cannot scale up a Tasmanian-style Hare-Clark to the New South Wales election, where the quota is 600,000. Voters just do not know the candidates, so trying to shoehorn Hare-Clark into the Senate is just not going to work in the larger states. I think that has to be accepted.

However, I do think that some form of optional preferential voting has to be dealt with as an alternative here. I think the problem is that, if full preferential tickets are retained and the other alternative—which is putting in the issue of a minimum quota—Is introduced, then what you are doing is introducing potentially a new way of this system being gamed. The current ballot paper's problems have to do with the structure of the ballot paper: the options voters are presented with and how the ballot paper is filled in. It is not a problem of the counting system. The counting system has more or less not changed for the last 60 or 70 years. It is the ticket system which has made the preferences more important.

Putting in a minimum quota changes the counting system by suddenly saying that first preferences for the first time are more important than other preferences. At the moment we treat all ballot papers at the same value whatever the preferences. We assume that voters from New South Wales can mark from 1 to 110 and tenths and that each of those preferences is for them is of equal value. Under optional preferential voting of some form they only give the preferences that matter to them; they do not go to the other 50 or 60 random preferences that many voters have to end up filling in. Above all, the option of only one above the line or all these numbers below the line is, I just think, not an option which is fair to voters. Voters cannot sensibly fill in a ballot paper like that below the line.

I have a couple of minor points on this. When the party reforms were brought in, the requirement for party candidates to have nominators was done away with. I would consider bringing back nominators for the Senate for parties. The reason for that is that, if you look at who nominated at the federal election, you will see that the micro-parties managed to nominate candidates in states where they barely existed. In Tasmania, the Liberal Democrat candidate was the mayor of Campbelltown in Sydney and was able to be nominated to Tasmania because he did not need nominators; he could be nominated under the central nomination process. The Sex Party candidate was Robbie Swan, who lives in Canberra. You cannot stop people from standing interstate, because the Constitution allows people to be treated equally. But, if the parties were forced again to put nominators up when they lodge tickets for the Senate, then a party that does not exist in the state could not use the central nomination process. So I would suggest something like that to deal with this flood of interstate nominations that occurred.

For the Senate, the question is whether we should also institute a change to the way the ordering of candidates is done. Currently it is a random draw of ballot position. Should we do what is done in some countries, where for the parties that stood at the last election the groups are listed in order of vote from the previous election? That would get away from this position where a party such as the Liberal Democrats, who were barely known, drew No.1 position and there was confusion that flowed from that. That is an alternative there. If you cut down the size of the ballot papers so voters are presented with 12 groups instead of 45, then that is probably a less important option. But, if we continue to have giant ballot papers in some way that voters can be given in some senses the more important options first, it would be better.

I think the form of reform has to focus on the voters: what the voter is presented with as a choice and how they express their choice. That has to be the more important thing—how voters can be given an informed choice and how they can express it. Voters have to have some ability to know what is happening to their vote. I know people who complained to me when I looked at all the party tickets which were lodged on the Electoral Commission's website. You cannot work out how your vote is going to get distributed from those tickets. If somebody voted for, say, the motoring party in Western Australia, whether their vote elected the Palmer United Party or whether it elected the Sports Party was determined entirely by that critical cut-off between the Christians and the shooters. You would have no idea where your vote was going to end up without knowing how all the other parties finished in the meantime. As we saw in Victoria in 2004, even party secretaries can misjudge the order parties will finish in, so how voters can do that I do not know. So I think that to cast an informed vote in the current system is just too difficult. Voters should list candidates in the order they want to see them elected, and how the electoral system works from there is their business.

The system, if changed, should advantage parties which campaign, not parties which arrange preference deals. If a party campaigns—hands out how-to-vote cards and increases its first-preference vote—then, if you have a system where voters have to give their own preferences encouraged by a how-to-vote card, then a party that campaigns and distributes a how-to-vote card material will have more say over their preferences. I do not see anything wrong with that, because I think that if a party can get votes by campaigning it also gets control over its preferences by campaigning, and I do not see why a party should get control over its preferences simply by putting its name on the ballot paper; it actually has to do something beyond that. In the end I am saying that the problem is the ballot paper, not the counting system. There are consequences that flow to the counting system if you adopt optional preferential voting—how you deal with votes with preferences as opposed to votes without preferences—and that is more of a detail thing that should be looked at.

The final point I want to make is that there are two other important things to take into account and that they both come down to simplicity. In the literature on electoral systems, simplicity is not an issue that is addressed much, but it is something I learned about when going to Britain in 2011 to campaign for preferential voting in Britain and trying to explain to people over there who did not understand it. First-past-the-post is ultimately the simplest system in the world. A proportional representation system is a simple system to explain; our system is not simple to explain. But, at its core, we should try to make sure that what voters are presented with and in understanding their voting option is simple.

Another thing I would make a plea for is that it has to be simple to count. The problems in Western Australia are partly due to the complexity of the electoral system. If these candidates with 1 ½ per cent of the vote did not have such a potentially critical impact on the final outcome, the importance of those micro-parties would not be as great. If the system were less complex, a few missing votes here or there would probably have less impact and the fine detail of the count would have less impact if there was a problem with votes for these parties with very few votes.

I think that after 2004 Eric Abetz was the minister in charge of the Electoral Commission. At one stage, in a speech to the Sydney Institute, he proposed to get rid of the tickets and keep above-the-line voting but switch to full preferential voting above the line. That would have been impossible for the Electoral Commission, because they would have had to data-enter 100 per cent of ballot papers instead of five per cent of ballot papers. So we have to keep in mind that we also have to be able to count these votes. People should remember that the modified system that was introduced the ACT election in 1989 was modified on its passage through the Senate and made impossible to count. So, whatever we do, we must ensure that the Electoral Commission can still count these votes.

So I would say that in the end we have to address the issues which come from the 1984 reforms: party registration and the Senate system. It must be simple—I would recommend optional preferential voting—and we must remember to keep in mind how these votes will be counted.

CHAIR: Thank you very much; that was most informative. Thanks for explaining it so candidly and simply. I want to give everybody an opportunity to ask questions while we have you here; my questions are really just to tease out a couple of things. I know you have commented since the election on two areas, really. One is some of the micro-party preference deals which the public would be dumbfounded with and where micro-parties of polar opposite views have teamed up. The other thing that you have made reference to publicly is that, as the vote was being counted, you predicted that in my home state the Motoring Enthusiast Party was likely to win. You said that, if this occurred, it would be the most amazing electoral victory in Australian history—and indeed in the world. I should point out that I did not think you are being charitable when you said that, because you went on to point out many times that this would not be allowed to happen anywhere else in terms of the system. So I just wanted to tease out some of the micro-party preference detail and also what the experience is overseas.

Mr Green : The issue with the deals is that the parties which are getting involved in this are simply engaged in a preference swap for no other reason than to game the system. If they all stick together and all direct preferences to each other, then one of them, if they get to 14 per cent of the vote, will win a seat. They do not know who—it may be whoever has the most interesting looking name; it may be an issue to do with the position on the ballot paper—but one of them can win if they stick together, and that is what happened. Family First in 2004 and the DLP in 2010 only had to get as far as to get ahead of the third Liberal candidate, and then they would get the major party preferences. What was new in 2013 at a federal level was that, in Western Australia and Victoria, parties managed to get all those preferences together to reach a quota. That came about because of the size of the ballot paper, which meant that people could not find the candidates they did know because they had to dig through all these other parties.

It is also to do with the peculiarity of how this system works. The range of parties involved in this ran from conservative Christian parties on the right to parties such as the Sex Party on what I call the libertarian left. They all agreed to keep references in the group, though some of them—such as the Sex Party—would not preference Family First, and Family First would not preference the Sex Party. Because they kept them in with each other, that tended to assist the parties somewhere in the middle of that. The motoring enthusiasts and the sports party were assisted, because they were somewhere in the middle of that group. The Palmer United Party benefited from it in some states as well. They were not part of the deal, but it was because those preferences accumulated that way.

But also, where parties went in different directions—in Western Australia, that critical 50th exclusion, or 50th count, although I think it is 50th exclusion—the shooters' party and the Christians' party had preferences that were tangential to each other. So, a minor difference between those two produced two quite different outcomes. There is no other system in the world where that would matter, because no other system would have preferences in that way. The system is unfair in the sense that if you look at Mr Dropulich's victory he was elected on the preferences of, I think, 21 different parties, 15 of whom polled more votes than him. The unfairness here is, what about the parties that got more votes than him and did not get elected? He got elected because of the preference deals. Three times in that count, he fell to second-last—one off the bottom—in exclusion. And three times the only candidate below him had ticket preferences directed to him, which got him further up the pile again. Now, only the preferential ticket system could do that. If this was voters making their own minds up, it would not happen that way. I have not had a chance to analyse the below-the-line votes for some of these parties, but in New South Wales in 1999, when I did, the below-the-line preferences of those voters who voted for some of these controlled ticket preferences on that tablecloth ballot paper were completely different from those who voted above the line. People who voted above the line could not know the ticket and therefore did not know where their preferences were going. You could not have looked at those preferences beforehand and predicted that the motorists party or the sports party would have been elected.

As far as overseas is concerned, very few other countries use preferential voting systems, so it is not a direct comparison. But if you are talking about a proportional system, unless you have somewhere like Israel or the Netherlands, who use a nationwide electorate, and therefore you get a quota of under one per cent, these parties would not get elected except in that sort of system, with a very low quota, and therefore they would not get elected. If that had applied in our system, then the parties that got more votes than the motorists or the sports party would have been elected, not them, because they were way down the pile. So you do not find someone randomly elected from down the bottom of the pile in other systems around the world.

On the issue of threshold quotas, some countries do have threshold quotas—Germany, New Zealand. The point I would make there is that they actually have a very low quota, initially, and this is a deliberate attempt to set a threshold that you must get above. There are some differences there, because they do not have a quota in our sense; it is a divisor based system. So it is a deliberate attempt to try to overcome the fact that a divisor based system can elect too many single members of parties. There is an attempt to try to avoid that. But under preferential-style systems, I am aware of only three alternative systems that have this threshold as well as an actual quota. One was the modified d'Hont system in the ACT, and the other two were in South Australia in the 1970s. There was one that was used for the 1975 and 1979 South Australian elections, and a modification of it was used in 1982. Those three examples are the only examples I know of where you have a preferential based system and you have a threshold quota that forces a party to be above a minimum first-preference vote as well as to reach an overall quota after preferences.

Mr GRIFFIN: I just want to follow on from the threshold issue. A witness we have a bit later on is Mr Mackerras, and he puts the view that if you actually put in place a threshold approach it would be unconstitutional. Do you have a view on that?

Mr Green : You would have to be very cautious in its application. The difficulty is that if you did not have the constitutional issue you would just simply group the candidates together to reach the threshold and say, 'If you're not over that limit you get excluded.' There is an issue there, because the Constitution states about voting for candidates, and if you are excluding a candidate based on a vote for a party rather than a vote for them, then you may run into a constitutional issue there. On the return of the deposits and the provision of public funding, we group the party together to determine whether they get the deposit back or whether they get public funding. But that is not affecting whether they get elected or not; that is just affecting those issues of deposits and public funding. There is also a number of issues such as if you have a threshold quota, do you allow them to have preferences to be distributed? If they are distributed, at what point are they distributed? Do you elect the candidates elected from the first count and then exclude the other parties, or do you exclude them initially? Say the coalition had 2.9 quotas, and you then excluded all the parties under your threshold, suddenly the coalition might get to 3.4 quotas overall, because you have done the exclusion of them before you have done any elections. So there is actually quite a number of complexities to the way you define this, as well as the constitutional issues.

Mr GRIFFIN: And on the issue of registration, perhaps you could just expand on that a bit. You made a point about the fact that the Commonwealth law is nowhere near as onerous as a number of state jurisdictions.

CHAIR: I think you said it was the same as Victoria.

Mr GRIFFIN: Not the same as Victoria, that is the—

CHAIR: No, on the numbers.

Mr GRIFFIN: Yes, the raw numbers are the same. On that basis, would you extrapolate through to what you think would be reasonable figures in relation to how you might construct registration at a national level?

Mr Green : I would say 2,000 if you consider that 500 is required in several of these states. New South Wales requires 750. I recently did a discussion in South Australia on this subject, and went through these rules. In New South Wales it is 750. They must maintain a register, which is checked every year, and the parties must be registered 12 months before the election to get on the ballot paper. So you have to do it ahead of time; if you want to run in next year's New South Wales election, you have to be registered officially by the middle of March this year.

CHAIR: 750?

Mr Green : Yes, 750. And they have to present individually signed documents from all the members. The members actually have to say they are a member, and it is done quite explicitly on a form in that application. In Queensland, because of the issue with Pauline Hanson's jailing, there was an issue of what is the common law meaning of a membership of a political party, and is it that you applied, or is it that the party accepted? And so the Queensland act goes into a lot more detail about proof that somebody has applied for membership, and that the party has accepted the membership. There are a lot more requests that the party prove that—it is 500 members there. In South Australia, again, a party is 200. But again, people have to supply an individual form signed by each member of the party. So it is much more rigorous to prove that there is a party. There are suggestions—

CHAIR: It is rigorously audited too, isn't it?

Mr Green : Yes. And it is also suggested that at least one of the parties for the federal election was done through basically a membership drive to test the rules as a university exercise. So there are questions as to what some of these parties are. They accumulate the names with an internet petition. I certainly think the process should be more rigorous, whether you adopt some sort of cut-off, like New South Wales. The difficulty of course is that New South Wales has a fixed date, so if you are trying to put in a threshold, a breakout period is a little more complex. But certainly, I think the number of members should be higher, and I think the test of the membership should be more rigorous.

Mr GRIFFIN: I do not recall, at least in Victoria, any sort of massive cries of 'It's undemocratic to have such a system in place'.

Mr Green : Registered parties have significant advantages in the system. They get their party name on the ballot paper, and they get the ability to centrally nominate candidates, which takes out all the difficulty of getting nominators—you do not have to do that anymore. I think parties get significant advantages and therefore they should be forced to jump higher. We require independents to prove they have some minimal level of support to get on the ballot paper. Parties, by having a membership, are expressing a minimal level of support to be allowed to get on the ballot paper. Deposit laws are about expressing a minimum desire to run for parliament by putting in your money, so I do not see that there is any problem in just lifting that barrier, particularly for parties. We dealt with some of the independents in this last committee after the last election, the 2010 election, by raising the deposits. I appeared before the committee and raised this as an issue, and something was done about it. You will note at this election that those independents largely disappeared from the Senate ballot paper, but they were replaced by registered parties.

Senator KROGER: Thanks for coming and joining us and showing your infinite experience and wisdom in this area, Mr Green. I think it is fair to say from what you have just said, that you do not believe that the election result was a true representation of the intent of voters. Is that a fair characterisation?

Mr Green : That is a fair characterisation. I do not think that the voters expressed a will to elect the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party or the Australian Sports Party.

Senator KROGER: Given your experience in electoral systems, and you have just raised a number of scenarios with us, what system do you think would be the best—well, what would be the fairest system that could be introduced here in Australia, that would represent the voter intent?

Mr Green : One of the jokes about designing electoral systems, and inquiries into electoral systems, is that most inquiries into electoral systems look at the world's different electoral systems and decide none of them are right, and they usually invent a new one. There is a joke made about the Butler inquiry in Britain, which came up with a system called STV plus, which proposed top-up seats and proportional representation and preferential voting at the same time. It was a rather strange hybrid. The problem in Australia: there are many countries which use PR systems which do not have candidate choice and do not have preferences; there are none in Australia. They are common all around the world. Our systems are properly known as proportional representation by single transferrable vote, which is what it is known as in the literature. Hare-Clarke, as used in Tasmania and the ACT, is one variant of it. The Senate is another variant. That is our normal form of voting in this country; we are used to preferential voting, we use it in the lower House.

So we use a preferential form of voting in the Senate. I think the problem with the Senate system at the moment is simply the preferences; there are too many preferences, the voters are required to give too many preferences. Once group ticket voting was in, that avoided that problem of the informality produced by the ticket voting by the old system. But it created a new problem, which we are now dealing with, which is that parties got control of the preferences and started to do deals to engineer results. So I would say the problem is the ticket voting system, which is producing these deals. I am not one for abolishing the above-line voting; I think we should keep it. People do not know who the candidates are. I think a perfectly valid alternative is to number parties above the line, so I do not have a problem—

CHAIR: And you say optional?

Mr Green : But it has to be optional. If it is full preferential you will bring back the informal vote again.

CHAIR: For the reasons you have said.

Mr Green : Voters do not have preferences for every candidate on the ballot paper; they should only have to express preferences for the number they have. I am aware that some people will be concerned about this as an option for the Senate, because it would become a stalking horse for the same thing in the lower house in the eyes of some people. I am less concerned about that, but I can understand why people who are concerned about optional preferential voting in the House would be concerned about it appearing in the Senate. But in the end I think you have two options. If you maintain proportional representation and single transferable vote, as is the Australian tradition, you have two options. One is to give voters control of the preferences by giving them optional preferential voting, so that a party that gets the significant vote is more likely to win the last seat. As Senator Kroger will well know, an optional preferential voting system would have elected her to the final seat in Victoria.

Senator KROGER: You mentioned early on, though, that counting in the case of an optional preferencing system becomes more complicated in terms of developing a system. Could you expand on that?

Mr Green : It is not more complex. The software would have to be rewritten. These counts cannot be done by hand anymore; that is one of the complexities of this system. If we just used the standard PR systems used in other parts of the world—Sainte Lague or d'Hondt, which are two systems commonly used in the world—you would simply add up all the votes, apply the divisors and declare candidates elected. There would not be the distributions of preferences, and that is the way PR works in most parts of the world. We use a preferential system, which is quite complex to count. Now you can count them by hand in the ACT or Tasmania, where you are dealing with 60,000 votes in an electorate. If you are transferring around four million ballot papers in New South Wales, it is very difficult to count, which is why computerised counting was introduced in 1993. It had got to the point where it was too difficult to conduct by hand. If you introduce optional preferential voting, you will need to change that software to do the count; that is one thing you would have to do. You would also potentially be increasing the number of ballot papers that have to be data entered, because more people would use the above-the-line option. Federally it is one in 20 ballot papers; it is less than five per cent of votes that are filled in below the line federally. In New South Wales, because they have the above-the-line option, it is about 20 per cent of people who use these options, so it is one in five ballot papers as a minimum that have to be data entered. That is a quadrupling of the number of ballot papers you would have to data enter. Alternatively, there are fewer preferences on those ballot papers, so they are easier to data enter.

So, there are some trade-offs there. The rate of usage in New South Wales is quite low. Some parties distribute only a vote 1 above the line; some indicate preferences. The Christian Democrats, who consistently hand out how-to-vote cards with preferences, get to about a third of voters with one, two above the line. That is about the highest rate there is. At a federal election, the problem is that with such a high exhaust rate, the race for the last Senate seat could become simply a first-past-the-post race, because all the votes exhaust. I would imagine that for a federal election, because of the higher quota, it would be in the interests of parties to distribute how-to-vote cards that indicate preferences, to try to avoid this highest-remainder problem. So I think there would be greater interest in the Liberal Party, the Labor Party and the Greens indicating preferences above the line, because it would give their vote more power with preferences. Of course, the micro parties would have no chance of getting elected under that system, because they could not control their preferences, because they do not hand out how-to-vote material.

There are some counting changes you would have to consider. Under the current system, where there are a small number of exhausted preferences in the Senate system—because we do make some allowance for below-the-line number errors, so a vote can exhaust—when they do the distribution of a surplus, some of those exhausted preferences get distributed. In New South Wales and the ACT, where you have exhausted preferences, a vote that exhausts when a candidate is elected stays with that candidate, and the only preferences that then flow on are the ones that have further preferences. So, there are some changes to your formulas in the count that I suggest you do, because the votes that have preferences and continue to flow as preferences should have more weight in that process. So, there are some consequences of going down the path of optional preferential voting.

CHAIR: Would you be able to give us some further detail on that in the coming days and weeks?

Mr Green : I certainly can. These are technical consequences of the decision to move down that path.

CHAIR: That is right. We are very interested. I am just mindful of time.

Senator KROGER: And presumably we are not re-creating the wheel here, anyway. There would be other nations that have such systems?

Mr Green : No. No other country has our system—

Senator KROGER: We need you to give us that detail.

Mr Green : And, as I explain to people, PR-STV in various forms is used in four state upper houses. It is used for the Senate, it is used in Tasmania, and it is used in the ACT. And, can I tell you, the laws and the counting procedure are subtly different in every one of those jurisdictions. You cannot buy software that does any state or territory in this country, because they are all slightly different.

Senator KROGER: Extraordinary—which leads me to my last question. Do you believe the software system the AEC uses at the moment to count the Senate votes is adequate?

Mr Green : It is accurate. I have to say, I might have played a part in people's understanding of the Senate system in recent years by putting the calculators on the ABC website. They calculate Senate results from—

Senator KROGER: Which many of us follow rather than following the AEC website, I have to confess!

Mr Green : I have to say, the AEC would probably be loath to do this—

CHAIR: That is the difference between members and senators, Senator Kroger!

Mr Green : The ACT electoral commission, for instance, has software that does the distribution of preferences when they data entry their ballot papers, and every day they issue a new distribution of preferences based on the data entry. The AEC could technically do that as well. That would supersede my calculator, so you would have a better idea of how the thing was going. They would be loath to do it. I know some people have written software, done the act, taken the below-the-line votes and recalculated, and they get the same result as the electoral commission. There is a question, again, of some technical aspects of the electoral act and how it specifies that preferences should be counted. There are arguments over how votes are treated. There is a point where a candidate reaches a full quota and has their preferences distributed, whereby in determining the preferences—and this is terribly complex—the weighting of a vote in surplus is determined by the number of ballot papers present, not by the number of votes, and that causes a distortion in the system. It is not the most critical issue. There is a gentleman called Anthony van der Craats who regularly appears before this committee specifically on that point. There are a number of areas in that. But the software they use implements exactly what the electoral act says, so I do not think there is a problem there. You can argue that it is not the correct way to do the count, but it does what the act says.

Senator FAULKNER: You commenced your contribution by identifying the two concerns that you had. You wanted to focus on registration of political parties and ticket voting from the 2013 federal election. You also made the point that these two issues might have had some impact on the situation of the Western Australian Senate election. Many might say that the Western Australian Senate election would possibly deserve to also be identified as a key concern arising from the election. If you care to, I invite you to make any preliminary comments or give any perspectives to the committee in relation to events as they are unfolding in relation to the Western Australian Senate election.

Mr Green : I was here for part of yesterday's hearings, and there was discussion of a culture in the AEC—this was dealt with in Mr Keelty's report—which views the Senate ballot papers as less important. I do not think that is just a problem with the AEC. I think the political parties tend to pay less attention to Senate ballot papers as well. As one of the state commissioners always says to me, the counting system is not just the Electoral Commission; it is the scrutineers as well—the scrutineers are part of the counting system. The problem in the Senate is that they are not scrutineered—not everyone pays attention. On election night, you know where the close contests will be the next day, and all the parties will send their best scrutineers to those seats. They know where to send the staff. On election night, who knows where the close Senate contests will be, and who knows what to do about it with scrutineering if there is a close contest?

It was obvious to me about a week after the election that WA and Tasmania were extraordinarily close counts. It was an unusual count in Victoria, but there was no way that that result was going to be overturned once you knew the tickets. But, in Western Australia, with the number of cut-off points in the distribution of preferences, there were so many things that had to go exactly right to elect Mr Dropulich. There were about three different points where he could have been knocked out by very close counts. So from the start it was clear that that was a very complex count.

The same was occurring in Tasmania. There was a key point which determined whether, I think, the Sex Party or the Palmer United Party won the last seat. There was a very close contest there. In the end, it was not close. In Tasmania, because of their familiarity with the Hare-Clark system, there is always a larger pool of below-the-line votes. That meant that tickets were undermined. In Western Australia, the number of ticket votes was enormous compared to the number of below-the-line votes. The below-the-line votes had very little impact on the result, but they could have because it was so close.

In South Australia and New South Wales when they conduct their upper house counts, all the ballot papers are brought in centrally. An initial count is done in the divisional returning office of each of the state electorates, but then to conduct the count everything comes centrally. So, if they have a problem with the count of above-the-line votes in a particular polling place, they are at the counting centre where the centralisation of the ballot papers is, and somebody involved in controlling the count, the returning officer—

Senator KROGER: These are all upper house votes that you are talking about?

Mr Green : Yes, in the state upper houses they are brought in centrally. The returning officer for the legislative council contest is able to inspect the ballot papers there present. In the Senate system, the ballot papers above the line are kept back in the divisional returning office. If there is a problem identified in a count in a polling place in their computer system, they have to ring the divisional returning officer, who checks it. It is not done again by the central counting centre. Peter Kramer is the returning officer for the Senate, but he does not have the ballot papers in his possession. The ballot papers are mostly in the possession of the divisional returning officers. So, if there is a problem, you cannot inspect them. The reason ballot papers for the House do not go missing as much is that they are all in one place. If it is a close contest, the scrutineers are there all along and the ballot papers never leave the office.

In the Senate case, they are going to have to leave the office at some point, and in this case they seem to have gone missing later on before they could come in for the central scrutiny that was done for the recount. There is some suggestion that divisional returning officers had some slightly subtle differences in their interpretation of the formality criteria for Senate ballot papers. That cannot be checked if the ballot papers remain in the divisional returning offices because the same person would do the recheck. We found those errors because they came in for a recheck count. I am not sure whether you create a new problem by transporting ballot papers across the state for the initial count, but the view in New South Wales and South Australia has been that unless you have got access to all the informal ballot papers and all the blanks then a central count cannot verify that a polling place is correct because the ballot papers are in two different places.

CHAIR: And in New South Wales it is 50 different divisions.

Mr Green : Yes. From what happened in Western Australia it does appear that there were some slightly different interpretations of informality rules.

Senator FAULKNER: But just so that I am clear on this, you identified—and I will not delay the committee beyond this—in commencing your answer to this question the significance of scrutineers, and you have mentioned this a couple of times in your answer. Surely, Mr Green, the presence or lack of presence of scrutineers should have no impact on the way our electoral processes work, the way the AEC at any level conducts itself in terms of its counting procedures. Would you acknowledge that? As a final question, I am just interested in you explaining why you put such emphasis on scrutineers. I understand their role and I understand their importance, but in any system with integrity, surely it should not matter a damn whether there are scrutineers there or not.

Mr Green : It should not, but the fact that you have scrutineers is in the interests of candidates so that they ensure that the Electoral Commission is thorough and accurate. That is why you have scrutineers in the first place. We view that the commission has to be made transparent in this process and that is why we have them.

A returning officer, looking after a close House contest surrounded by scrutineers, knows that they are in a position where they are being watched and they have to be absolutely scrupulous and accurate and there is no mucking around and no mistakes they can afford to make. Whether in a Senate count, without the pressure of scrutineers they treat it as seriously, is a serious question. The Senate count is often being redone several days after they have done lots of the really serious detail for the House. There is a lot of pressure on them to get the House result and all the pressure is on the returning officers from media and from the political parties to finalise the House count.

Senator FAULKNER: Let us be fair here, it is the candidates, the political parties, who appoint scrutineers, so if there is a failure there we could perhaps properly say that this is clearly not a priority given by candidates and parties.

Mr Green : I think that is the subconscious view returning officers take, that if the parties do not appoint scrutineers to an election it is somehow seen that they are not being watched.

Senator FAULKNER: They might change their views as a result of recent events of course.

Mr Green : There does need to be a change to how those Senate ballot papers are checked and scrutineered. I think that one of the parties that went to scrutineer for the Senate recount in WA had to figure out a strategy to adopt because it was such an unusual thing to scrutineer a Senate contest.

CHAIR: We are running a little bit over time, but we are hearing important evidence so we will keep going. We did have a scheduled morning tea break but we will just work through, I think.

Senator RUSTON: The thing that seems most obvious to me this morning in all the discussions that we have been having about the issues and the problems that are inherent in the system both from a practical sense and from a voting sense is where does electronic voting sit in this? What is your view on electronic voting? I suppose there are two sides to it: what would be the advantages of it, and what are the problems you would see with moving towards a more electronic system—and not just counting, but actual voting?

Mr Green : The question is always of security and identity with electronic voting—that the someone who is turning up and voting is the person, particularly with internet voting as a replacement for things like postal voting. Is the person filling in the vote the person who they say they are? There is always someone duplicating the process. Are they breaking into the security and flooding in results—votes which actually are not real votes? Is there some sort of breakdown in security? There are a lot of issues in that area.

If you move down the path of electronic voting, or intranet voting, which is like a closed internet, I can see that things like prepoll voting, overseas voting and some remote postal voting can go down the path of electronic voting. And we will move down that path. There are advantages with the flood of prepoll voting with removing the amount of paperwork involved. In a controlled environment it is easier—

CHAIR: Mr Green, you might want to just briefly touch on the system here in the ACT—or do you want to come back to that?

Mr Green : Yes, I will go on to it. The ACT's is a slightly different system. It is not internet based; it is a computer program. They have a randomised ballot paper. They have a number of advantages in the ACT. It is a city-state. You are not dealing with a large area. It varies where you can do electronic voting; it is mostly used for prepoll voting as well. When you are setting up the computer system you are setting it up for two to three weeks to take votes. Therefore you are not having to set it up on the Friday night, conduct it on the Saturday and then take it all away on the Saturday afternoon. So that is why it is more likely to come in for prepoll and overseas voting because you are putting it in place for a period of time, you are solving paperwork issues and you are speeding up the receipt of votes which otherwise require a lot of transfer of ballot papers around the country. So that is where it will come in.

If you have a ballot paper like the New South Wales Senate ballot paper and you have come up with an electronic version of it, you are still going to have people confused. If you are getting a tendency for people to vote on the left hand side of the ballot paper, what you are going to get electronically is people tending to vote for the ones that appear at the top of the page. So you will have to come up with ways to deal with the fact that the way you present the candidates is interfering with the way people are voting.

But electronic voting will come because, as to printing several million ballot papers over a weekend, in 10 or 15 years time you are going to have difficulty finding somebody who can do that as a print job. So that is why we are moving in those directions. It will come, but it is not an answer in the short term. And if you can lose a couple of hundred ballot papers then what would go wrong if somebody lost the thumb drive from a computer voting centre? You would have the same problem. It is not going to solve the Western Australian problem. It will solve a number of issues to do with reporting of certain types of votes.

Senator RUSTON: The response, then, is: not yet; we have still got too many potential issues there before we can progress to it. The other question in that is: you are saying 'prepoll, overseas voting, remote voting et cetera'. With the tendency that we have seen with the doubling of the prepoll from 2010 to 2013, we are sort of moving away from it being a day and moving towards it being a three-week voting time. Is that trend, in your view, likely to continue?

Mr Green : There was cost analysis of electronic voting in the ACT. When they considered expanding electronic voting so that all votes would be taken electronically, the only way it could be done was to cut the number of polling places and introduce a polling period rather than a polling day, because you had to set up this equipment for a period of time; you cannot have electronic voting for a single day.

Senator RUSTON: So prepoll actually becomes polling?

Mr Green : Yes.

CHAIR: And you are not dealing with any rural or remote booths?

Mr Green : No. We have seen the difficulty of introducing computer systems into schools. Yes, sure, those computer systems are there, but do you want to run elections where you have to suddenly load all of this software onto the school computer system to do voting on? It is just too complex. You have to compromise the way you conduct the count to introduce electronic voting. That is one thing I would be concerned about.

There are electronic forms of voting around the world, but it is not very common for preferential voting because preferential voting is harder to do. In Britain they use scanning, but they have crosses—that is all they have to mark the ballot paper with; it is much easier to do those things, scanned electronically or on a screen. If someone is going to go one, two, three, four, you can prompt people, but it is still a more complex form of voting.

Senator RUSTON: What is your view on fixed term elections? Do you think there are advantages in moving to those or disadvantages?

Mr Green : Some people in Victoria might think it is not at the moment. There are consequences for fixed terms sometimes. Every electoral official in the country will tell you that they think fixed term parliaments are wonderful.

Senator RUSTON: I am talking about the people. We are not worried about the AEC.

Mr Green : I think the people would like it as well. When Julia Gillard announced the date of the election in January last year, I thought there was an astonishing level of hysteria from people who really did not understand that it is just a date. The states all have fixed terms. It was not the most astonishing thing—

CHAIR: It didn't happen on that date anyway.

Mr Green : In the end, no it didn't. I think voters are quite happy. There are consequences of it, including what we have seen around some of the states. Governments are bit better able to plan capital works programs right up to elections in a way which is even more precise than under variable terms. I think there are advantages of it. The main problem federally is the Constitution, how you deal with double dissolution powers and how you deal with the fixed terms of the Senate.

CHAIR: We had this conversation, didn't we, back in 2005?

Senator RUSTON: I have two quick questions. The fact is that we have so many different systems in our local, state and federal governments. What degree of confusion does this cause? What is the informal consequence of this on people's voting behaviour? Every time someone from New South Wales goes into a polling booth, they have to work out which election they are at and how they have to vote. I do not know whether there was any increase in informal votes when they went to the OPV state-wide and so in their federal voting they actually did not fill their ballot papers out properly.

Mr Green : The clearest example we see of confusion is between the New South Wales federal and state house elections with the informal vote rate. It is clear that the use of optional preferential voting in New South Wales induces people to do the same in the House of Representatives elections. It is also pretty clear that the use of a one-only option in the Senate also induces that on the House of Representatives ballot paper. We know there is some confusion like that.

In New South Wales that rise in the informal vote rate did not really occur in New South Wales until the late nineties when parties started to distribute how-to-vote cards with a one-only. Optional preferential voting applied in New South Wales from about 1981, but we did not see the surge in it at federal elections until the end of the 1990s. That is when the Labor Party and the coalition started to issue one-only how-to-vote cards, which meant voters started to use that regularly.

CHAIR: I will just interrupt for a second. We have got to run on schedule. These are very important issues. We are going to have Mr Green back another time. We are going to have to wrap this up in the next 10 or 15 minutes, and I want to give everyone a go on the very specific issue of the Senate voting from the last election.

Senator RUSTON: I am sure you have probably written a paper on it and you can direct me to it. You made the comment earlier about the fear of doing OPV in the Senate and that it would scare the hell out of my lower house colleagues. I would be interested to know why we should be concerned about that.

Mr Green : I would ask the people who are concerned about it, because I am not concerned.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for your presentation, Mr Green. You spoke about optional preferential voting. Could you expand on how you would see that working, what it would mean for below the line.

Mr Green : When New South Wales introduced this, it is a one above the line or 15 below the line, because 15 is a constitutional restriction on how many preferences you must give in a New South Wales election. So the parties were forced to stand a minimum of 15 candidates. That would not have to be a requirement federally, because there is not a minimum constitutional number required. You could in the act specify that if a party wants a group ticket it must stand three, four or six or as many candidates as there are vacancies, for instance. That would have the effect of increasing the deposit fee as well, I would suggest.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you have a view on how many candidates should make up a ticket? The question was also referring to: if people vote below the line, should it be the current system that they have to fill in all the boxes, or do you have a view that that should change?

Mr Green : If you have optional preferential voting above the line, it must be optional below the line. It is simply a matter of how many preferences you are prepared to wear below the line. The simplest would be, say, one above the line and one below the line. Most of the one-below-the-lines are going to be for one of the major parties anyway, so the odd one vote below the line for a party is not going to interfere much with the distribution of preferences because it is for a candidate who has got the head of the ticket anyway and the preferences would tend to flow down. You could do one; you could specify there must be a certain number of candidates. It is entirely in the control of the act. It is not like the New South Wales constitutional problem.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you have a view on that—if it should be optional preferential, above and partial preferential below, or OPV in both places? Do you have a view on what would work?

Mr Green : I will say one thing: if you keep group ticket voting, if you keep the current ticket voting system, there must be an easier option for voting below the line. There must be some form of limited preferential voting below the line. People should not have to give 110 preferences below the line. My view is that the easiest way is to say: 'One above the line or six below the line or 12 at a double dissolution,' but when you do six or 12 below the line you start to get informal votes. I think the number of people who might go one, two, three below the line and stop is not large enough that it will interfere with the count in any significant way, and forcing them to give more preferences is going to cause informal votes. You can do what they do in the ACT. The ACT says on its ballot paper: 'You must give five preferences or you must give seven preferences.' The act says you only need one preference, but they say five or seven to encourage people to give more preferences. You can adopt that approach. The ballot paper instruction can say: 'You must give six preferences,' but the formality rule may be just one preference.

Senator RHIANNON: Just to clarify that: you could say that, but if they only gave one preference it would still be a formal vote?

Mr Green : If you write the act in that way. That is what they do the ACT. A single one is formal, but the ballot paper instructions say: 'Give five or seven preferences.'

Senator RHIANNON: So we have heard your preference for OPV, and there is a lot of debate around this and there seems to be the two trends—the Senate voting reform, OPV, or putting in place other restrictions with regard to registration, the number of members et cetera. Do you think a package of reforms that covers the number of members, nomination fees, maybe registration, the party 12 months ahead and other matters would bring back the decision-making to voters? I think we have unity around that—that it should be voters making these decisions and not the backroom deals. Do you think that, if it went down the track of a package of reforms and not the OPV, it could be achieved?

Mr Green : I would rather see OPV as well. I think it should be in the package. I would just say this: the key thing is that voters should be given a sensible ballot paper they can simply make a choice on. People turn up to vote for the candidates they know and the current system means having to plough through candidates they have never heard of to even find the candidates they know. That is what is wrong with the system. The options should be about moving towards a sensible choice of candidates who are prepared to meet the hurdles and pay the deposits to get on the ballot paper. That would produce a sensible series of options. If the principle is that anybody should be able to stand for parliament and the consequence of that is a ballot paper that confuses voters, you need to go back and address your principle on who should be able to stand. We have nomination laws, we have deposit laws. They are restrictions on getting on the ballot paper. It is simply a matter of saying, 'What other restrictions should we have?'

Senator RHIANNON: Finally, could you comment on the issue of the naming of parties? You would have seen some comment about possible changes in that area. Do you think it is required? Do you see an impact on the democratic process et cetera?

Mr Green : I have seen the idea of quarantining the words 'Labor' and 'Liberal'. That is not the approach you would want to take to define words and amend the acts in such and such a way. If the registration of parties was modified in such a way that the historical precedent comes in, in terms of registering party names first, I think it would be important. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal judgement on the Fishing Party versus the Fishing and Lifestyle Party, which was used to allow the registration of Liberal Democrats as an abbreviation, was on the basis that a reasonable person should be able to discern between those things. The results of this election have indicated that, with the size of the ballot paper that people were presented with, a reasonable person was not able to work out the parties.

CHAIR: Because of the positioning.

Mr Green : Because of the positioning. The volume of candidates meant that people were not able to take a considered position and think, 'Hold on, I've got the Liberal Democrats here and I've got the Liberals and Nationals there.' I must say that I suspect the Liberals and the National Party might have a different approach to the name they put on the ballot paper in the future, because I do not think that helped them in New South Wales. I can understand why the Liberal Party is very concerned about another party that people are confusing with the Liberal Party and why they would therefore, given their history, want to do something about that.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thanks very much for being with us, Mr Green, and for sharing your considerable expertise with the committee. We appreciate that. I would like a couple of clarifications. Are you talking about optional preferential voting in both the Lower House and the Senate?

Mr Green : I am addressing it here on the basis of the Senate only.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Would it help with clarity for voters if it were in both houses?

Mr Green : It would assist with clarity if the rules were roughly the same in both houses.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Secondly, I think Senator Ruston was asking you, this last election really seemed to be a three-week polling day because, for the first time in my memory nobody asked whether you had a reason for pre-polling. In fact, someone suggested to me that it was no longer the law, but I am not quite sure of that. Do you have a comment on that?

Mr Green : The law has been changed. Now to pre-poll you merely have to state that you have difficulty attending a polling place on election day. That is the only rule nowadays.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do you see in the future that it will become a three-week polling period?

Mr Green : I think it is clearly the case that more people are taking the option of voting early, if they can, to avoid crushes on election day, queues on election day, people handing out how-to-vote cards on election day.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: My final clarification. You mentioned something about what Senator Abetz was proposing some years ago. I must confess I did not focus on that. I understood from the way you described it that it was an above-the-line preferential system, which is what you are advocating anyhow.

Mr Green : Senator Abetz proposed above-the-line preferential voting, but it was full preferential voting. So if there were 20 columns you had to give 20 preferences above the line. The two problems with that is that you would get an increase in the informal vote. It would have also required the electoral commission to data-entry every ballot paper. So the proposal just disappeared.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: So his was compulsory. Yours is optional—that is the difference?

Mr Green : Yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Okay.

Mr Green : The optional version is used in New South Wales currently. It is the only state that currently uses it.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you.

Senator SMITH: Mr Green, clearly that participation of micro parties and their successful election has been a standout Senate theme from the most recent election, but did micro parties do anything illegal? Did they engage in any unethical behaviour? Or did they just outsmart the big parties?

Mr Green : The chair and Senator Faulkner know that I have been appearing in this committee for about a decade on exactly this subject, saying it would happen. It happened.

Senator SMITH: That was going to be my second question: did you foresee—

Mr Green : I look smug and that is why!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are a soothsayer now, are you?

Mr Green : You do not often get predictions right in this business.

CHAIR: I can verify that, by the way.

Mr Green : No, they did nothing wrong. The point I would also like to make is that the Senate is a serious chamber of parliament. You expect an electoral system to sort of be a training ground for getting into parliament—how you campaign, how you get votes, how you make the compromises on policy which allow you to get enough votes to get elected and then once in parliament it is the training ground for how you behave in parliament in terms of negotiating legislation and discussing policy. The system that is in place now is not that training ground at all; it allows people to engage in cabals to swap preferences to get elected and strange deals which have nothing to do with getting ideas across to voters. That is another reason why the system is not good—it is not a training ground that produces people who might be good quality senators. Some may say that the party internal preselection procedures have the same problems—do they produce good senators or not? But I think it is certainly the case that these preference deals do not necessarily produce senators who can perform well when they are given the balance of power in the Senate.

Senator SMITH: Going back to your comment about being able to foresee the situation that we now find ourselves in, and also given a reading of literature and the commentary suggests there is increasing support for optional preferential voting in the Senate, what are some of the reasons that only now are we considering it seriously? What have been some of the inhibitors to embracing optional preferential voting in the Senate previously?

Mr Green : Because to date I think the major players, the major parties, have had the view that they like to control their preferences with ticket voting and determine who wins that last seat, because that last seat is important to the balance of power in the Senate. That is why it has not been necessarily seen as an option they really wanted to go down the path of. It is why, I think, some will put forward threshold quotas as a way of dealing with this problem, because it will allow the major parties to continue with control of preferences as they do now. I think it creates different problems if you introduce a threshold quota and keep ticket votes. That is why it is coming up now.

We have seen a slow decay in the support for the major parties. We are seeing a bigger pool of voters who vote for non-major parties. At this election, it was the highest vote for minor parties and Independents at any election in Australian history. That is in both the House and the Senate. I think it was about 31 per cent in the Senate. But I would point out that the sheer increase in the number of candidates on the ballot paper induces an increase in the minor party vote because people are looking at this ballot paper and they do not necessarily find—or they get confused and they do not find—the candidates they know.

The experience in New South Wales is, when they got away from the tablecloth ballot paper in 1999 and went to a smaller ballot paper in 2003, the minor party vote fell. It did not go to the minor parties that were still on the ballot paper; it went back to where it is. If you increase the number of candidates, you increase the minor party vote. If you increase the minor party vote, you get these ticket preference deals, and that is exactly what was going on by multiplying the number of candidates on the ballot paper.

The inducement of Pauline Hanson to run again for One Nation in New South Wales: she had very little chance of getting elected because she was not going to get preferences from any significant player, but having her name on the ballot paper increased the pool of votes amongst that microparty alliance. You increase that pool and you keep it in the pool. It is like a game of keepings-off in football. You just keep passing the ball around yourselves until one of you reaches the quota. If you get enough candidates on the ballot paper, you can increase that pool and increase your chances of getting up.

Senator SMITH: Using your powers of crystal ball gazing—

CHAIR: We have only got a minute or two, Senator Smith.

Senator SMITH: Just one last question, Chair. If we do move down the path of optional preferential voting, does it significantly change the composition of the Senate in the future or does it just do it in—

Mr Green : I will try and do a more detailed analysis in my submission to the committee, but it would have meant that Nick Xenophon's ticket would have got a second seat in South Australia. It would have meant that Helen Kroger won the third seat for the Liberal Party in Victoria. It would have meant a third seat for the Liberal Party in Tasmania more likely, because it assists the party that gets the higher vote. Optional preferential voting gives more weight to first preferences because preferences that exhaust their preferences move out of the camp. So, with someone who starts off with a high vote, it is harder for somebody to come from behind and win. New South Wales looked like preferences had become completely unimportant under their new Legislative Council voting system until 2011, when just enough preferences remained in the count to deliver the last seat to the National Party instead of One Nation. So the preferences still can play a part, but they are not as important and they certainly do not elect microparties in the way the current system does.

Senator XENOPHON: I am conscious of time. I will truncate this down to one question. Mr Green, you have written that the change to the Senate voting system in 1984 was triggered by the 'scandalously high' informal vote of just under 10 per cent in the 1983 election. In 2013 Senators Pratt and Kroger, with about 10 per cent or more of the vote allocated to their names, missed out to candidates with a quarter of a per cent and half a per cent of their state's votes respectively. What do you consider is a bigger scandal?

Mr Green : To some extent they are both scandals. In one case 10 per cent of the vote had their votes tossed away. It was not just the informal vote of 1983. You must remember in 1974 there was a deliberate stack of the Senate New South Wales ballot paper to try and undermine Labor's vote. So we have seen stacks of ballot papers before in an attempt to increase informality. Whatever change we make to resolve this problem of someone with a high vote missing out to someone with a low vote—a very low vote—we must ensure that we do not end up with an increase in the informal vote along the way. That may mean some temporary compromises in the reforms that are made, but we should not bring back wasted votes through informality by trying to address this other problem.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Green. That was most informative. When you put your submission in, we would like to invite you back to talk about some of the other issues we are considering through the course of the inquiry. Thanks for appearing today. If we require any other information about matters that were raised today, the secretariat will be in touch with you.

Mr Green : Thank you for the invitation.