Senate Question Time Chamber 18/11/2010 file no 10467

Five Down One to go

After the dust settles.

Following last weekend’s re-run senate election in Western Australia, one thing is for sure, our electoral system is broken.

With 34 parties and 77 candidates in the running for six senate seats, there was always going to be a lot of losers – turns out it’s us.

Sure we live in a democratic society where we have a bunch of freedoms and liberties to the point where anyone could start a ‘mirco’ political party, and I mean anyone. Having the ability and a few supporters to start a party is surely not a strong enough criterion to overcome.

Angry that your rights as a smoker are being impinged on; start a party. Frustrated that you cannot drive your 4wd in a national park; start a party. Opposed to multiculturalism; start a party. And it goes on.

Do these parties actually solve anything? Do they have enough support to change the political landscape? Or are they taking votes from more ‘representative’ parties.

Does the Palmer United Party really represent the best interests of ‘regular’ Western Australians? Are they a party you want holding the balance of power? They received over 12% of the vote; over 125,000 people think they are just what we need.

palmer
Image Credit: tumblr/thepollvault

Where do all the votes go?

With the emergence of micro party collectives, these once fringe parties now play a significant role in the Australian political landscape, yet if they don’t win where do their votes go?

As with Ricky Muir in the 2013 Federal election, where he received so few votes, making him one of the least voted for senators in Australia’s history. Not always do your votes go where you want. His Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party was in a 25 group voting ticket of which he came out the winner.

Mr Muir disappeared immediately after his victory, only to come out of hiding to align himself with the Palmer United Party. Leaving aside the best interests of the 24 parties that preferenced him, as well as his own party. Did those who voted for him really expect to have him align with PUP, and what about those who voted for one of the 24 other micro parties?

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As it stands either Labor or Liberal will get the final as yet undecided senate seat. Which means many votes will have been for nothing. The major parties are not going to support the smokers, nor the 4wd’ers, maybe they will agree on making Australia a more heterogeneous society though.

Solutions.

What was evident in this election was the ‘looseness’ of our system. How can it be that someone like Clive Palmer can simply buy his way into the senate? How we can have 34 parties contesting an election? With the majority of the candidates from outside of Western Australia, how could they be expected to represent WA?

The criterion for starting a party needs to be more arduous: setting a benchmark test for why a party should be started and how they will benefit the wider community.

Robust financial restrictions on the amount candidates can spend on politicking should be implemented.

Candidates should not be ‘based’ in the state they are trying to represent, but actually live there, as in, with a house, a dog and community connections…

There needs to be more flexibility in the above the line preferring system.

Would these ideas really change anything? At the very least we would have less fringe parties bleeding votes from more established ones – that actually have an opportunity and the support base to do something, whilst ensuring a fairer campaign trail where ones agenda needs actual talking points rather than deep pockets,  and state focused representation within the senate.

Giving the electorate more choice in above the line voting, by allowing up to three preferences will allow us to have more control over their vote.

Maybe this is idealism in the face of a broken system. Maybe when most Australians don’t know what the senate actually does, or that senators have a guaranteed senate seat for six years, maybe it is we ‘the electorate’ that needs to lift our game.

Brian Allen is a writer and a curmudgeon, based in Sydney, NSW. 

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