Just a quick note that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters will be holding hearings into the 2013 Federal Election this Wednesday morning in Parliament House. Here's the star-studded lineup:
The hearings are open to the public, unless the Committee grants a request from a witness to go in camera so they can disclose sensitive information. They are also expected to be broadcast on the Parliament House website (I'm assuming this is the federal one).
I have sent a submission focused on Senate reform which can be viewed here: JSCEM submission. Long-term readers will recognise that the submission is largely a reconstituted version of Senate Reform: Change This System But To What?
However I have formed some clearer views about which way I think the Senate system changes should go, and I'm now supporting optional preferential above the line with semi-optional preferential below. That is, above the line a voter can just vote 1 for a party or vote for as many parties as they like. When their vote runs out of parties, it exhausts. Below the line, a voter must vote for a prescribed minimum number of candidates. If their vote runs out of candidates (because all have been elected or excluded), it exhausts.
This is by no means a rare proposal but one thing that may be slightly unusual concerns the number of candidates required to be numbered below the line. It has been widely asserted it should be six for a half-Senate election and twelve for a double dissolution. I believe this is not necessary and will only lead to parties running more candidates and slowing down the count. I would consider four for a half-Senate election and, say, eight for a double dissolution to be the ideal number of compulsory squares for a valid below the line vote.
As to why I don't support fully optional preferential voting below the line, I believe that where major parties run especially strong candidates who have a cult-like popular appeal, they would be more likely to attract voters who just voted 1 for them and then stopped. This would disadvantage the party since those votes would not flow to other candidates in the party, and this would create a perverse disincentive to the party fielding such candidates. The situation in the Tasmanian House of Assembly with a required vote of 1-5 avoids this problem. I think the Senate should have a similar solution. But I think a maximum requirement to vote for four in the Senate is sufficient, since the Senate does not have intra-party contests, and since there is no risk of any party winning five out of six seats in a Senate contest.
As to whether the Senate should have intra-party contests (with Robson Rotation etc and abandoning above-the-line voting entirely) I believe this is just not practical to count and would also skew the campaigning battleground for large states in favour of rich candidates.
This is all a provisional position and I'm quite open to any better solutions that might be out there. The important thing, again, is that the current system must be changed.
I've flagged that I'll also be happy to answer any other questions that may arise. I don't know what the others listed will be flagging in their testimonies at this stage. At the moment I intend attending the whole sessions (except where thrown out if the hearings go in camera) but I won't be providing live coverage.
I'm working - as time permits - on articles about the current Nielsen poll and also recent state polling in Queensland.
Update (Wednesday 16th): Today a seven-person JSCEM (with all representatives present being from either the Coalition or Labor) heard from the above-listed witnesses. The sitting was broadcast (audio only) on the APH website and ABC News Radio.
In addition to my submission I also mentioned some of the absurdities in the Tasmanian Senate count, specifically numbers 2, 4 and 9 from the Tasmanian Senate Seat Goes To The Button article. Also in connection with the general issue of informed voter choice (and whether voters "choose" to vote above the line) I mentioned how when I had called for pro-gay-rights voters to vote below the line to avoid electing Peter Madden, I'd received some blowback related to the risk of this advice potentially causing Greens voters to vote informally.
I stressed three points in my opening comments:
- that this is not about the calibre of the incoming micro-party Senators but about whether they have been democratically elected.
- that above-the-line voting is not genuinely popular or freely chosen; it happens at such high levels because the alternative is too difficult.
- that there is no perfect system that will achieve high formality, voter control over preferences and low exhaust all at once. There are many systems better than the current system but all will have weaknesses and require education campaigns, especially the first time around.
Questions I received were mostly from the Chair (Tony Smith), the Deputy Chair (Alan Griffin) and also Gary Gray. Areas in which I answered questions included:
* Inclusive Gregory (the surplus calculation method) which I suggested replacing with any of Weighted Inclusive Gregory, Wright, Meek etc after sufficient further consideration.
* My support for a requirement that slates of candidates be nominated by a number of residents in the state they are contesting, to eliminate drop-in microparties that lack real support
* The whole area of dealing with party names. There was quite a bit of discussion of this. Gary Gray suggested (and I agreed in principle while not sure how easy it is to implement) that there is a line to be drawn between party names that are genuinely competing for a label and those that are deliberately misleading. An interesting suggestion (by Alan Griffin I think) was the possibility of using party logos as well as names to make recognising party brands easier.
The matter of actual basic system in my proposal didn't get discussed much, but it was discussed in the next session with Professor Richard Eccleston, whose proposals were similar enough to mine that a lot of the same ground was covered.
There is likely to be quick progress on the Senate matter with an interim proposal, finding or report expected in May.
I'll post a link to the transcript of the hearing here once it is up.
Uncorrected proof up 23 April: An uncorrected proof version of the day's hearings is online now. There are a few typos and so on to be fixed in mine (eg "Bob Gay" should be "Bob Day") but nothing drastic.