Western Australia Senate re-run and the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters

The following post was originally a comment by Chris Curtis.*

The rerun of the WA Senate election is to occur on Saturday, 5 April. General opinion from the “experts” is that people are horrifed that micro-party candidates (voted for by 23.5 per cent of the national population in 2013) actually won seats and that people will realise their “mistake” and flock back to the “proper” parties. They predict that the result will be two or three Liberals, two Labor, one Green and, as an outside chance, maybe one other. I say the 23.5 per cent of the population are delighted that their vote actually elected someone and that they will do the same thing again, though I do not predict how the preference flows will work in WA.

The Joint Committee on Electoral matters has started taking submissions and conducting hearings into the 2013 election, the one that led to so many complaints because the “wrong” sort of people managed to get into the Senate (with more initial votes than most of the “right” sort of people had won from without complaint in every Senate election since 1949).

Submissions can be found at Joint Committee on Electoral Matters Submissions. Mine has yet to receive approval and thus parliamentary privilege (not that it is the sort that really needs it). Submissions particularly worth reading are those from Malcolm Mackerras (no. 7) and Michael Maley (No. 19). One worth reading get the flavour of those who want to turn the single transferable vote into a party list system to shut the candidates of micro-parties out – the effect of which is to favour the Greens – is that from George Williams (No. 23). You can follow the links at the top of the page to get transcripts of public hearings. Malcolm Mackerras appeared on 7/2/2014 and George Williams on 13/3/2014. (BTW, they are Australian date orders, not US ones: as with “tomato”, you say 12/31; we say 31/12.)


* which somehow got intercepted by the spam filter. I was so close to clicking “empty spam” when I noticed this was most certainly not spam!

188 thoughts on “Western Australia Senate re-run and the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters

      • Chris, I have a lot to say in response to your submission, much of which I have said in previous comments. But here are some points that relate specifically to the submission

        1. Regarding p.7-8, I would make the point that while such results are *theoretically* possible under preferential voting, one might ask why they do not happen regularly. The reason is that voter preferences do not appear to flow as strongly as GTV party-chosen preferences. If voters, actually numbering boxes themselves, had elected Ricky Muir off his tiny initial vote share, I would not have cared.

        Saying that such results can theoretically happen ignores the actual problem with GTV; not that candidates are *inherently* elected with small vote shares, but that they were elected with little voter knowledge or support. When a voter votes above the line for a political party, it is easy to understand that their vote will go to elect the people below that box. As I’m sure you would discover upon asking the voters themselves, it is not so easy to explain to an Animal Justice Party voter that their vote has been sent to Pauline Hanson, or to a Labor voter that their vote has gone to Steve Fielding.

        2. You then go on about the 2016 results. The reference to major party senators is dealt with above, but claiming that David Leyonhjelm’s election is a perversion of democracy blatantly ignores the fact that he was elected through the preferences of real voters, making an active decision to number him ahead of Fred Nile. That is why there were no complaints.

        3. Going after thresholds would have been a good idea, had thresholds been included in the legislation.

        4. “The micro-party candidates got around 20 per cent of the vote in every state in 2013, so it was perfectly democratic that they ended up with a senator from every state”. I have made this point over and over again, but I fear it must be made again. Amalgamating ‘micro-parties’ into one artificial category produces a meaningless number. As I’ve pointed out, Chris, if you vote for the Democratic Labour Party, by your logic you would rather a Senator elected from the Sex Party, Marriage Equality Party or Socialist Alliance than the Liberal or Labor parties, and vice versa.

        5. Your proposal to increase the deposit would not be helpful, frankly, since minor parties would simply nominate only two candidates. The issue is not the depth of the ballot, but the width, and that would not be solved with a deposit hike for unnecessary third candidates.

        6. No evidence is offered for your statement at the end that the votes for micro-parties were ‘devalued’ under the new system, unless you were referring to the remarkable, and frankly highly unreasonable, decisions by the voters not to participate in the Shooters and Fishers-Animal Justice-One Nation-Socialist Equality alliances that had existed at previous elections. Perhaps it’s time for the micro-parties to take a stand against this, dissolve the electorate, and choose a new, more sensible one.

      • I agree with Henry on your position on GVTs and like hm I am not going to address them here.

        I think the sliding scale for nominations would ultimately be geld unconstitutional because it discriminates in favour of lectors who belong to a wealthy party and against lectors who belong to a poor party. Antony Green has repeatedly called for the practice of central nomination, by which a registered party can simply nominate all its candidates in all states by instrument in writing, to be abolished. I agree with him.

        I would take a number like 10. Electors would be allowed to nominate only 1 candidate for each house. A house nomination would require 10 electors. A senate nomination would require N*10 electors where N is the number of federal divisions in that particular state or territory. Nominating a senate candidate would require 470 electors in NSW and 20 in the territories. I am not married to 10 as the base number and it may be far too low.

        This would have the huge advantage that its largest impact would be in the largest states where the ballot is widest and the informal vote is highest. There would be no sliding scale and no risk of unconstitutionality. All parties, not just the micros would need live boots on the ground (or pens on the nomination papers) to exist.

      • Henry,

        We long ago reached the stage of simply repeating ourselves, so I will comment only briefly on each of your points.

        1. The attacks on Ricky Muir’s election were based on his tiny primary vote, yet no such attacks greeted the hundreds of other people elected from tiny primary votes. There is no difference between a preference moving from one candidate to another within a party and one moving from a candidate in one party to a candidate in another. Group voting tickets are a convenience to the voter and have never been compulsory. The introduction of optional preferences below the line reduces the pressure to vote above the line. It was very easy to explain to a Labor voter why its preferences went to Steve Fielding (because Family First preferences went to a Labor Senate candidate in return). In all cases, the preference is in relation to some other real possibility. Again, it is the voter’s choice to trust the deal his or her party has made or not.
        2. I have never claimed that David Leyonhjelm’s election was “a perversion of democracy” and have no idea where you got that from.
        3. I’m forestalling possible submissions to introduce thresholds as I have met people who advocate them still.
        4. You have made that point again and again and I have made my rejoinder again and again. In each case, the first question is who did the micro-party candidate beat and did those whose preferences helped that candidate prefer that candidate to the particular individual who got beaten, while the second question is so what as no one has to vote above the line.
        5. I hope that micro-parties would nominate only one candidate because the issue is not the width of the ballot paper but the number of candidates on it. (As for Alan’s point re constitutionality, I would have to hear some argument.)
        6. Devaluing the votes that almost a quarter of Australians cast for the candidates of micro-parties was a reference to the campaign that produced the voting “reforms” in the first place.

        I add that there are many more submissions on the website than when I posted above. While the committee has other issues to consider, numbers 12, 20, 27, 30, 45, 46, 59, 61, 63, 65, 70, 71 and 74 concern Senate voting. Number 66, from the AEC, contains lots of statistics.

  1. Interestingly, the electoral referendum used AV to choose between 5 options: the present FPTP system, FPTP but with the addition of the party leader of any party earning 10% of the vote, AV, MMP, and Dual Member Proportional, a system invented by a graduate student which would give each constituency 2 seats, allocate one seat to the party winning the seat FPTP, and then distributing the second seat in each constituency to ensure proportionality (so it bears some similarity to both the Italian-style regional distribution of seats into constituencies without a list, as well as to best-losers variants of MMP).

    Apparently some voters were also upset that STV-PR wasn’t an option as well.

  2. Tom,

    As best as I can make out, there are some significant differences between my proposal and the NZ one. Placing 1 in the above-the-line box in the NZ proposal would express preferences for candidates of that party only, whereas placing 1 in the above-the-line box in my proposal would express preferences for 12 or 20 candidates, irrespective of the number of parties they were from. The NZ proposal would allow a 1 below the line to be formal but my proposal would require 12 or 20 preferences below the line to be formal. The essential difference is that I believe that it is the citizen’s duty to vote and that duty includes choosing between candidates all of whom are undesirable, just as in the House of Representatives.

  3. Malcolm Mackerras’s submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has finally appeared. It is No 139. It is particularly hostile to the new system and well worth a read.

  4. The High Court has disqualified Rod Culleton from his putative election victory as a One Nation Senator for Western Australia on two grounds, one of which http://www.cefa.org.au/ccf/rod-culleton-and-privy-council is that he is a bankrupt. Now the Turnbull Government wants Culleton to repay the Commonwealth any pay and other benefits he drew during his brief stint as an invalidly-elected pseudo-Senator: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/bob-day-rod-culleton-could-be-forced-to-repay-their-senate-salaries-allowances-20170406-gveykg.html
    In other words, “You have zero money, so you can’t legally sit in Parliament. You sat in Parliament when you legally couldn’t, so here’s a bill for $250,000.”

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