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Peter Andren on your precious Senate vote

On 19 June this year, before he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Peter Andren delivered this talk on ABC Radio National's Perspective program:

Within 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.

Senate 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 accountability.

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?

The 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 One Nation.

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.

To 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?

But 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.

The 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 preferences go.

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.

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Phillip Adams backs Andren on Senate voting conspiracy

See Scratch my back and I'll stab yours:

"UNTIL the last moment - Saturday at noon - something very strange and rather nasty was happening in our democracy. Something involving millions of voters without their knowledge: the dealings and double-dealings with their preferences.

Major and minor parties were trading your votes behind your back in a process as frenzied as trading in stock. There was furtive buying and attempts at takeovers. There was insider trading, a market in futures, hedging and dumping. Not of BHP Billiton or Visy but of holdings in the Libs, Lab, Nats and Greens, with impassioned bidding for stocks so obscure you may not know of their existence. Or have forgotten that they exist..."

Bob Brown also made the same point as Peter Andren after the deals were done. Why have the majors done this? It gives them control. It's a way of disenfranchising voters in the Senate who don't want to number every box, or aren't game to in case they make a mistake.

Why not have an above the line preference system like in the lower house? Because voters can vote according to their actual preference, and the big 2 wouldn't want that, would they? This gives the minors more of a show.

It's amazing how people

It's amazing how people age decades in weeks with cancer. Pity it had to be one of the useful ones rather than from the clusters of deadheads.

Although cancer is an ugly thing and you would't wish it on most people, even  Howard.  Ivan  Milat- maybe? Or just feel sorry for him being a mad dog.

The post reminds a reader of a few weeks ago, when they ended parliament with many politicians retiring, like Carmen Lawrence and Beazley. Also some of the Democrats who have reasonable are in strife- unlucky and unjust.  They sorted the chaff from the wheat but which is staying where?

Margo's comments concerning the  ACT are very, very spot on. The impatience  of anti-coalition forces is understandable but risky. Try to remember previous elections when things have looked looked ok  but went "overboard". Like '98 when Labor lost out with a week or so to go concerning middle class welfare of some sort or other.  Also, it would be unwise to crucify Milat's sister over-much;  she is not the one who committed the crimes and persecuting her might earn her a sympathy vote if she is pro-coalition.

 Lorraine Hyde's comments  I concur with. They (coalition) are old, tired and stale and making the same sorts of mistakes Labor did in 96 or Thatcher with her wretched poll-tax after being too long in government.  Ten years seems the limit for any of them and nine or eight sounds even better.

ACT to save Australia!

On November 24 there could be a big hats-off due to Getup, Margo, the Greens and Labor’s Kate Lundy for their Save the Senate campaign, and to those much maligned Canberrans (oh how we suffer!), to go by an article in today’s Canberra Times. 

According to the story, ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries is being reduced to a preference deal with “a relative of serial killer Ivan Milat” to have any chance at all of retaining his seat at the next election. 

Every party except the fringe Liberty and Democracy Party, which isn’t likely to get enough support to save Humphries, has directed its preferences to the Greens before the Liberals. 

According to the latest Morgan polling, Labory's Kate Lundy is on 47 per cent of the vote, and since she would need only 33 per cent to be elected the remaining 13.7 per cent would flow to Kerry Tucker, who is on 17 per cent. 

Humphries is on a grim 38 per cent, so he needs whatever help Lisa Milat (there’s a name to win votes!) can give him. 

Veteran election watcher Malcolm Mackerras has declared the ACT Senate campaign lost for the Liberals. 

The ACT’s senators, like those of the NT, step straight into their seat after the election, unlike the states’ senators who have to twiddle their thumbs for six months. 

Canberra.  Saving Australia from tyranny.   

A toast, at least, if Humphries goes? 

Margo: David, those two stories worried me. If she's seen to be a cert Lib voters may return to Humphries. And it's all relying on just one poll a couple of weeks ago now. She's still the underdog, I reckon. It would be simply extraordinary if Humphries primary vote slipped to 25% on election day. As I wrote in the book, "something amazing would have to happen" for Kerrie to win. And now Humphries is putting on the pork - $10 million for a road widening, $50,000 for playing fields water costs, and it will go on.  Will Labor spend a bit to get a Green up? Dunno. But yes, if she does win, I might stop being booze free for just a night. What a party it would be - hope you'd be there!

Too early to pop the corks

I think you're right, Margo, it's still a long shot.  And God, we've still got three weeks to go (will it never end?!)  I guess if it's a certainty for Lundy Labor's not likely to want to spend more money that it has to, just to get a Green up - although the prospect of a hostile Senate for the first six months has got to be playing on their minds. 

What's the situation in the NT, do you know?  Haven't heard anything about it, so maybe it's locked in, in the Government's favour. 

And yes, I'd be there for the celebration - with champagne and very loud bells on! 

Maybe even further

The Senate in the last term of this government has been a joke.  And I am not blaming those representatives trying to do the job for which they were duly elected.  I do blame the Coalition for their blatant abuse of their power.  Just a reminder also that John Howard did promise that he would not abuse that power and stated how humble he was after the last election and then promptly introduced his WorkChoices Bill.

All of this just goes to prove that governments can stay in power too long.  If we truly want to be represented in a democracy then we should be changing that representation more frequently.  Bring on fixed terms of government so that we end these ridiulous campaigns that stretch out to ten months or more and the surrounding speculation and uncertainty that accompanies the decision of when the elections will be held.  We should also be limiting the terms of any one political party being in power. Governments do become stale.  They do run out of ideas and they do begin the downward slide into arrogance and abuse of power.  Maybe we should look at better ways to remunerate pollies for shorter periods of time hopefully attracting top quality people who see their input as putting something back into the community. Certainly couldn't be any worse than what we have now.

Right, but we need to go further

Margo, thanks for posting this. I couldn't agree more.

For those who are serious about having a democracy — that is a representative government that proportionately reflects all shades of opinion in the community — I urge you to get involved in any and all moves for electoral reform that you can find, and support the adoption of the Mixed Member Proportional representation (MMP) which ought to ensure that every government is a minority government.

In practice this means that everything has to be negotiated, not only in the senate, but in the lower house as well.

This can only result in better government. It couldn't possibly be worse!

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