It's the final Senate week before the Budget is due in May and the focus is on Senate voting reform.
To say that things are a little fractious would be an understatement. Labor and the Independents are incensed about the reforms and a few Libs (like me) wonder about the wisdom of any policy that requires and receives the support of the Greens to get through!
Despite this, I support the underlying principle behind the reforms proposed. Essentially, it boils down to providing voters with more choice.
As it stands now, a voter casting a Senate ballot above the line has their primary vote allocated according to a group voting ticket determined by the party and back room operators.
We've seen some 'preference whispering' previously give rise to some bizarre outcomes. Some of the micro parties have the same office bearers and effectively do preference deals with themselves. Other times, even the bitterest of political foes are forced to do deals in order to comply with the voting requirements.
Such a circumstance saw Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young elected thanks to the preferences of (former??) mining baron Clive Palmer!
The system also forces those who choose to vote below the line to decide between some truly awful options. How does a conservative choose between the Communist Party, the Greens or Labor for last place?
Which brings me back to the reforms.
The proposal allows every voter to allocate preferences above or below the line in accordance with their own determination; the caveat being that voting below the line will require them to choose a minimum of 12 candidates, rather than number every candidate as previously.
That means a below the line voter could support the Liberals, the Nationals and perhaps Family First. There would be no need for them to extend their vote any further than the parties whose values they identify with.
Similarly, above the line voters could decide they only want to vote for the Liberal Party with no preferences being distributed to other political candidates.
In essence, this expands the options available to voters to allocate preferential votes only as far as they want to.
I have no doubt this change will have an impact on the composition of the Senate. Thus far, no one has been able to definitively say what that impact will be or if it will advantage one party over another.
However, the principle of freedom of choice for every voter to determine the direction and exhaustion of their own vote is a principle I support.
I only wish they would extend the same principle to electing members of the House of Representatives too.
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