Federal Politics Government

Government’s rush on Senate reform indicates a desire to go to a DD

A typical Australian Senate ballot paper. Source: Frank Violi

The government is anxious to pass it’s Senate voting reforms before the next election, rather than allowing robust debate and trying to build broad support for the changes. The changes, which are likely to wipe out microparties from the Senate and which are supported by the Greens and Nick Xenophon would provide an advantage to the government at a double dissolution, potentially giving it control of the Senate.

Tony Abbott during his time as Prime Minister routinely said he was being frustrated by a “feral senate”. That feral senate saved us from much of the contentious parts of the 2014 budget – not necessarily a bad thing. The last time a government had control of the Senate, we were handed WorkChoices – a massively unpopular reform which would not have been passed had an effective Senate been in place.

The 2013 election resulted in a some candidates being elected on small first preference votes (such as the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party’s Ricky Muir with 0.5 percent of the vote) buoyed by so-called backroom preference deals on group tickets (how above the line votes are distributed).

The changes which have been agreed upon include abolishing group ticket votes, allowing above the line preferential votes and below the line optional preferential voting. None are terribly bad ideas, but the effect of their implementation on Senate diversity needs to be carefully considered.

Given that the current system for Senate elections has been in place for three decades, is there a need to rush reform? We can all see why it’s being rushed – the government wants a double dissolution with control of the Senate afterwards.