GOVERNMENT BILL: Legislative Council Voting Reform
February 14th, 2017
On the 14th February 2017, Mark spoke to the Electoral (Legislative Council Voting) (Voter Choice) Amendment Bill 2016.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: The Greens believe that this bill is incorrectly named. The title refers to voter choice, yet what this bill does is it actually removes one of the most important elements of voter choice, and that is the ability to allocate preferences. The government can say that if someone is so keen to allocate preferences they can number all the squares below the line, but we know that 95 per cent of voters do not do that. It is an onerous task, there is a risk of making a mistake, and they should not have to do it when it comes to allocating preferences.
The Greens' position has always been that we want to see electoral reform in the form of optional preferential voting. There are variations on that theme, and I look forward to discussing with the Hon. John Darley, with my other colleagues on the crossbench and with the opposition—and hopefully with the government as well—how we can genuinely get a system of optional preferential voting so that in an ideal world voters could number as many or as few squares as they wished. They could favour as many or as few candidates as they wished. When they have stopped allocating preferences, their vote then exhausts.
One of the myths, I think, with much of this debate about electoral reform has been that the exhausted vote, regardless of when it exhausts, is some sort of democratic tragedy. It is not; it is an expression of the voter's will. If the voter only wants to preference one, two, three or six parties or candidates then that should be their right. The big problem with this bill is that you only get one vote above the line and you do not get any ability to allocate preferences. That said, the bill does overcome the great evil that I think all of us are keen to see overcome, and that is the back room preference deals. It does that, but it does not do it in a way that provides for genuine voter choice.
The Greens have an optional preferential voting bill before parliament and the Hon. John Darley has had a bill as well, and he has now put forward some amendments which effectively turn this bill into an optional preferential voting bill. Whilst we are yet to go through all of the fine detail, the Greens are very attracted to what the Hon. John Darley is doing. Like I said, there are variations on a theme. Do you make people number at least six boxes above the line? Do you allow them to number up to six boxes above the line? Why six? Why not four or why not three? There are variations on a theme, but all of them have an advantage over this bill, which is that they do give voters some element of choice. I think we need to have that discussion.
I know the Hon. John Darley is interested in having a look below the line. How can we allow voters to exercise a preference for various candidates without having to go through the onerous task of numbering every single square? Whilst I have not actually seen the ballot papers, I understand that in the Western Australian parliament nominations closed today, and I think there is a record number of candidates. If we get a record number of upper house candidates it makes for a very onerous task. Is it 80, 90 or 100?
Will we get the famous New South Wales tablecloth ballot paper? If you force people to number every single square on a piece of paper that size they will inevitably make mistakes. The informal rate of voting for those who go below the line is much, much higher than above the line. The Greens will be opposing the bill as it is drafted. We will have a very close look at the Hon. John Darley's amendments, but we are very attracted to them. We are also attracted to seeing whether we could further amend the bill for allocating preferences below the line and I look forward to those discussions.
One of the reasons I have put myself down to speak on this bill at a very early stage is that we need to let the government know at a very early stage that this bill in its current form is going nowhere. What we do not want is the situation we had four years ago when it was the very final week of sitting before we got to seriously debate upper house voting reform. My sincere hope is that we knock this bill off in its current form or we amend it to provide for more voter choice, for an optional preferential system, and I look forward to discussing with my colleagues in all parties how we can make the voting system fairer.
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