Drum roll, please….And the election winner is…….. Well, no-one…at least not yet. With over a million postal votes still to be counted and potential recounts of key marginal seats still on the cards, we may not know the final outcome till later in the week.
So in the absence of a clear winner, although it looks perhaps possible that a Coalition government may be able to form in its own right, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at the result and maybe get on my own political soapbox for a moment.
I am going to make a bold claim that I find the whole Australian political system as it currently stands to be built on shaky ground. I am breaking it down into these 4 main areas.
- Every Vote Should Count…
- Should We Make Voting A Privilege and Not An Obligation
- Pass A Basic Level Of Political Literacy
- Vote Accurately on Issues Not Personalities
1 – Every Vote Should Count…
According to the AEC as of 12.20pm Sunday 3rd July, 4.5% of voters for the House of Representatives & 6.1% of voters for the Senate voted INFORMALLY.
That means that they did cast a vote in such a way that their vote can even be registered. Moreover, given that the previous government voted in changes to how voting was to be done in 2016, there was also some significant misunderstanding at the polling booths.
For example, there were reported cases of polling booth officials saying: “You need to number six boxes above the line, or 12 boxes below”.
The problem with that is that the words “at least” were missing.
- number at least six boxes above the line for the parties or groups of your choice, or
- number at least 12 boxes below the line for individual candidates of your choice.
And for anyone, who did not want to contribute to preference voting they were actually able to vote a single 1 in the box above the line (see below for the actual legislation)
“New paragraph 269(1)(b) will operate with the new subsection 239(2), which provides for voters to number at least six squares above the line. The Senate group ticket voting system has been in place since 1984, requiring that voters number only one square above the line. Since then, a very large majority of voters have followed the practice of numbering only one square above the line. It is important that voters who continue to number only one square above the line, even though contrary to the new subsection 239(2), should not have their votes treated as informal: they have expressed a clear choice albeit one that might not give their vote a long life in preference distribution. Paragraph 269(1)(b) is designed to give effect to that choice.”
Similarly, I was personally informed that I needed to fill out all the boxes in the House Of Representatives ballot by the AEC official on polling day, whereas on the official AEC website states clearly, “If a House of Representatives ballot paper has all squares numbered but one, then it is assumed that the unmarked square constitutes the last preference and the ballot paper will be deemed formal.” http://www.aec.gov.au.
Now all that might not seem like a big deal, and perhaps a bit pedantic, but when we are looking at such a close run election, these issues combined have the ability to potentially alter the course of the election.
A POSSIBLE SOLUTION:
Move into the 21st Century and create a secure online voting platform.
This would make voting easier, faster and potentially more reliable than the old paper-based system. Additionally, online tutorials could be provided, so that there was no confusion come polling day.
2- Should We Make Voting A Privilege and Not An Obligation
A further 6.0% of voters eligible to vote in the election did not even register to vote.
|Size of the electoral roll and enrolment rate as at 31 March 2016|
|Electors enrolled||Eligible Australians||Proportion of eligible Australians enrolled||Estimated ‘missing’ from the electoral roll|
|15 468 329||16 447 262||94.0%||978 933|
A POSSIBLE SOLUTION:
Move to a voluntary voting system. Democracy is not a perfect system and there is no way to fix this issue except by getting people voluntarily interested in the issues and in voting.
Being forced to vote if you have no interest in it cannot lead to better outcomes because they make the election result completely random rather than balanced by those people who are actually interested in the issues. You can’t have a people’s government if the people don’t care.
Of course, the risk is that so few people choose to vote that it leads to motivated fringe groups, vested interest groups, or parties that would otherwise not get up, gaining positions in government.
3 – Pass A Basic Level Of Political Literacy
I don’t know what the exact figure is, (but I would think it is scarily large) but I would argue that most Australians didn’t even know what they were voting for on polling day.
Let me expand on this bold claim, and I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I would very much doubt if the majority of Australians even understands exactly how the Australian Parliament Works.
In fact, why don’t we do an informal poll of our own to test my hypothesis? (answers will be at the end of this blog by the way?)
Q1. What are the 2 houses of parliament called?
Q2. What is the function of each house?
Q3. What is a double dissolution? Why was a DD called in 2016?
Q4. How are preferences calculated?
Q5. What are the terms of office for the Senate & House of Representatives respectively?
How did you do?
How do you think your friends and family members would have gone with these 5 fairly basic questions?
A POSSIBLE SOLUTION:
If we moved to the online system outlined above, it could also become mandatory that you need to be able to pass a basic test, or become a licence holder, before you can cast your vote. Under a licencing system, you might only need to resit the exam once every 2 or 3 elections, or every 5-10 years for example.
4 – Vote Accurately on Issues Not Personalities
In the absence of an informed and considered understanding of exactly how the system works, or the issues and facts at play, people will make decisions on either:
– A popularity contest? I.e which leader is more popular, believable or trustworthy? or
– On the one or two issues that are important to them right now. For example, a Sky News Exit Poll reported the following:
72% of respondents rated Health & Medicare as very important issues in deciding their vote,
63% of respondents rated Education as very important issues in deciding their vote,
51% of respondents rated Economic Management as very important issues in deciding their vote,
37% of respondents rated Superannuation Changes as very important issues in deciding their vote,
27% of respondents rated Negative Gearing as very important issues in deciding their vote, &
26% of respondents rated Company Tax Cuts as very important issues in deciding their vote.
Given that Health & Medicare rated so highly the 2016 Labor “Mediscare” campaign (which was based on at best dubious claims, and at worst on downright lies) was likely to have been a significant factor in the outcome of the election. So as a nation do we really want our sitting members elected off the back of who is either better looking, more popular or more likeable, or on unfounded claims, half-truths, and misunderstandings?
It is really only a 2 horse race… and those horses are old, slow and perhaps best guided towards the knackery!
Australia’s lower house (where a government is formed) is really a two-party preferred system, where, by and large, we have 2 competing ideologies that often hinder not help progress Australia’s agenda. In fact, it could be argued that the job of a politician (and the many vested interests behind them) is not to make the country better, but to get either elected or re-elected. This can lead to voter fatigue and a sense that democracy is failing them.
That is why I think we are going to see the Senate continue to throw up some odd curve balls as voters seek to have a variety of voices heard beyond those of just the 2 major parties.
A POSSIBLE SOLUTION:
How about this for a different idea. Work out what portfolios a government should have. For example, Prime minister, Deputy, Treasurer, Infrastructure Minister, Health Minister etc. and then Australians vote in the best person for that job. Not some career politician, who may or may not have any special skills or experience for any particular portfolio. Once each of the elected official(s) for each portfolio is/are elected, we then have online referendums for any major issues. That way Australians can have their voice heard based around, a particular issue, not on what the policy of the ruling party is currently.
For example, I know that I support some, but not all, of the policies of the major parties and some of the minor parties from time to time.
ANSWERS TO OUR INFORMAL POLL (click for answers)
[accordion-item title=”What are the 2 houses of parliament called?” state=closed]
The 2 houses of parliament are called The House Of Representatives (or Lower House) & The Senate (or Upper House)
[accordion-item title=”What is the function of each house?” state=closed]
There are 150 members elected to the House of Representatives (also referred to as MPs) and 76 senators (twelve from each of the six states and two from each of the mainland territories) elected to the senate. The government is formed in the House of Representatives, by the party (or coalition of parties) with the support of the majority of members in the House. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate debate and pass bills, scrutinise government and represent the people of Australia.
[accordion-item title=”What is a double dissolution? Why was a DD called in 2016?” state=closed]
A double dissolution election is different to regular elections when only half the Senate seats are contested. In a double dissolution, the Governor-General dissolves both the Senate and the House of Representatives at the same time, meaning every seat in both chambers is contested.
Section 57 of the Constitution sets out a mechanism for resolving disputes between the two houses of parliament that arise when the government cannot get its legislation through the Senate.
If a bill has passed the House of Representatives but the Senate either fails to pass or rejects it on two occasions – with a period of at least three months between each attempt – the government can request the governor-general dissolve both houses of parliament and a double-dissolution election is held.
A bill failing to pass or being rejected twice by the Senate is sometimes said to be a “trigger” for a double-dissolution election. The two bills that would reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) – which the Senate rejected for a second time in April this year – and the Registered Organisations bill were used as the “trigger” for the July 2 election.
[accordion-item title=”How are preferences calculated?” state=closed]
The main elements of the operation of preferential voting are as follows:
- voters are required to place the number “1” against the candidate of their choice, known as their first preference.
- voters are then required to place the numbers “2”, “3”, etc., against the other candidates listed on the ballot paper in order of preference.
- the counting of first preference votes, also known as the primary vote, takes place first. If no candidate secures an absolute majority – 50% plus 1 – of primary votes, then the candidate with the least number of votes is “eliminated” from the count.
- the ballot papers of the eliminated candidate are examined and re-allocated amongst the remaining candidates according to the number “2”, or second preference votes.
- if no candidate has yet secured an absolute majority of the vote, then the next candidate with the least number of primary votes is eliminated. This preference allocation continues until there is a candidate with an absolute majority. Where a second preference is expressed for a candidate who has already been eliminated, the voter’s third or subsequent preferences are used.
Following the full allocation of preferences, it is possible to derive a two-party-preferred figure, where the votes are divided between the two main candidates in the election. In Australia, this is usually between the Labor and non-Labor candidates, although recent elections have seen a small number of seats dividing between Labor-Greens and Coalition-Independents.The distribution of preferences takes place in every electoral division in federal elections so that national two-party-preferred figures can be calculated.
[accordion-item title=”What are the terms of office for the Senate & House of Representatives respectively?” state=closed]
The House of Representatives can only sit for a maximum of three years.
The Senate is a little bit more complicated.Under normal election conditions, there are seventy-six senators—twelve for each state and two each for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Senators are elected by a system of proportional representation for a period of six years. A system of rotation, however, ensures that half the Senate retires every three years. The four senators who represent the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are elected concurrently with members of the House of Representatives and the duration of their terms of office coincide with those for that House (a maximum of three years).