On 19 June this year, before he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Peter Andren delivered this talk on ABC Radio National's Perspective program:
the next six months voters will go to the polls in the federal
election. And whichever side prevails and forms government in the House
of Representatives, the most important election in my book will be that
for the Senate.
Why so? Because the 2004 election delivered the
government control of both houses of parliament for the first time
since 1980 and I don't think that's good for a healthy democracy. Over
that period we had a balance of what I call responsibility in the
Senate that tempered the excesses of government, and by and large
achieved a healthy consensus in legislation and Senate procedures.
inquiry processes were set up that properly scrutinised legislation and
government administration. Contrast this with the situation post 2004.
A government in control of lawmaking has the power not only to frame
electoral law to its own advantage but to dismantle the means of
Such a winner take all governance means the
proper scrutiny of government at this most critical period in our
history, when security, human rights and global warming issues
predominate, is now beyond the control or amendment of non-government
representatives, who after all represent more than fifty per cent of
primary voting support.
So what happened in 2004?
Senate is elected by proportional representation, a quota system
supposed to deliver senators in each state in proportion to the vote
obtained. Now I think Proportional Representation properly achieved is
the best reflection of an electorate's wishes.
Tasmania has it,
the ACT has it, New Zealand now has it, most European countries have it
and our senate has it. In theory it should deliver representatives who
reflect the various political flavours of the electorate, not a
domination by the two major party blocs which occurs in the House of
Reps. We saw that Senate variety between 1980 and 2004 with the
traditional major parties joined by Democrats, Greens, Independents and
The senate should, ideally, better represent the
political kaleidoscope of the broader Australian community than does
the House of Representatives despite the fact the same number of
senators in every state -- that's the deal insisted on by smaller
states at Federation -- makes a vote in NSW worth about one fifteenth
of a Tasmanian vote.
The real problem with the senate is above the line voting.
have a serious chance, I and any other independent is forced to run
above the line where more than 90% of people vote. There is no
provision for independents to have their names above the line unless
they form a party and register preferences -- how unfair is that?
the really sinister side is that you, the voter, hand over your
preferences to the party when you vote above the line. This enables
deals to be stitched up between major and minor party candidates, deals
that can deliver outcomes that would never occur if everyone was only
required to vote below the line...not for all the 70 or 80
candidates...but only the number required to fill vacancies.
Now that might exhaust a lot of votes but I argue it would deliver a result more in tune with the wishes of the electorate.
election of Family First in Victoria from a base of less than 2% of the
primary vote in 2004 is the first major sign in Senate elections of
this ticket or group voting system seriously distorting rather than
reflecting the will of the broad electorate.
But why would Labor
and the Coalition jump into the Family First bed together? Well, they
both had a common cause of denying the Greens, a fate that almost
befell Christine Milne in Tasmania where only the familiarity of
Tasmanians with below the line voting scrambled her enough votes to get
from a primary of almost a quota...13%...to fall over the line ahead of
a fast finishing...you guessed it...Family First flying home on second
preferences courtesy of Labor.
At any other time it might have
been a leg up for the Free Beer on Sunday party if it suited the
purposes of the major parties. The reality is, the vast majority of
voters, who would preference quite differently to the party tickets, if
there was no above the line voting, are simply unaware of where their
Sydney Morning Herald journalist Alan
Ramsey said recently that three years ago the Senate campaign got under
the guard of most commentators. We were too busy he said looking at the
Howard/Latham stoush. Well it's imperative no-one, especially the
voter, lets this year's Senate campaign slip under our guard.