Monday, 9 September 2013

The peculiarities of

Australia's voting system are likely to lead to a very peculiar mix in the Senate of our Federal Parliament.
Let me explain first that our founding fathers intended the Senate to be quite a different place from the one it has become. The Senate was supposed to represent the interests of the states. If you are a Senator you are a Senator for the state in which you have been elected. You are not supposed to be a Senator for a particular political party.
Of course what has happened is that the Senate has become party based and not state based.
The last government was working with a finely balanced Senate. It could get most legislation through with the support of a minor party, the Greens. What this meant in fact was that a minor party actually wielded a great deal of power, power which was not proportionate to the number of votes they received. Naturally they do not see it this way.
The Greens also had one member in the House of Representatives and he has, against the odds, managed to retain his seat. Overall however the Greens have had a drop in their primary vote. Despite this they are claiming that their success in getting one member elected to the lower house is a mandate for all sorts of things. They will retain their position in the Senate as well, although at least some of their positions will be due to compulsory preference flows and a lack of understanding by voters of how the system works. They will almost certainly get a Senator in this state although at least three parties will have had more first preference votes.
Again the Greens say that this gives them the right to block legislation they do not like.
Add to the likely mix of Senators one from a "Motoring Enthusiasts" party and a "Sports" party and perhaps two from the new party run by one of the country's few billionaires and there is a problem. It would be a problem for whichever party managed to win government.  It means that minorities have control and they believe they have the right to dictate how the country is run.
Do they? My answer is no. It is simply wrong that any group which is supported by a small minority should have that amount of power.
The system needs to change and this time there may be calls for change.
We need a system that can respect the past but not veto the future.


Sue Bursztynski said...

I'm sure the new government will agree with you. But the Greens are no longer a minor party. They occupy the position of third party once occupied by the Democrats before they made the mistake of allowing the GST through. And they still got far more votes than the other smaller parties that got in through preference flows. We have some microparties with one issue on their agenda - at least the Greens have policies on more than one issue - but we may now be at the mercy of a party that wants more roads, one that wants to see the gun laws loosened(the one decent thing Howard ever did, IMO), parties that want environmental controls loosened, a party with policies back in the fifties, and they got in with as little as 0.22% of the vote! If you want to worry about the Senate, worry about these, not the Greens.

Anonymous said...

Sue, Sarah Hanson-Young will likely get a Senate spot with about half a quota. Nick Xenophon's running mate will not get in despite having an almost complete quota. I could go on. The reality is that the Greens do well because of our system of preferences. Their overall vote dropped at this election - and will drop again if they continue to claim (as the Democrats did) that they have the right to block policies on both sides of politics.
Many people are under the impression that they are just about what is best for the environment. Many of their policies are, to put it kindly, unrealistic. They can afford to be. They know they are unlikely to have to try and implement them.
Cat is absolutely correct when she suggests that they, and other minor parties (and yes they are still a minor party), have a degree of power disproportionate to the numbers of people who voted for them. They do well out of compulsory preferences, without them they may not be there. They would not have won Melbourne and Hanson-Young would not be looking at being returned to the Senate.

Miriam said...

Here in Israel there have always been small parties with too much power. Until now.

Anonymous said...

I am starting to think that the other micro parties who have a foothold in parliament may vote a little differently to the Greens which may make the greens a little yellow. Interesting times ahead ... again!

One thing I think has changed ... the incoming government is not talking a lot about the opposition, and suspect they will talk about them less and less as the dust settles.