Dear Christian: Why do economic rationalists make so much noise
about any Australian government ownership of Telstra, but don’t seem to
mind the Singapore government owning Optus?

Dear A Non: Australia’s
Australia and Singapore’s Singapore. We can debate our policies and
they can debate their own. But a question for you: which of the two
countries is better known for restricting the freedom of its residents
with rules ranging from the piddlingly pathetic to the politically
proscriptive? Free men, free markets.

————————————————

Dear Christian:
I
was interested in the high level of informal voting in the 2004 federal
election. Since then I’ve learnt a little about the Langer voting and
similar cases. It’s had me thinking about the full preferential versus
optional preferential voting arguments. I don’t really understand the
arguments for full preferential voting. So my question is, why do we
have this system for federal elections and why does the government seem
keen to keep it that way?

Dear Craig: There’s plenty of debate on that subject in the submissions
to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters Inquiry into the
Conduct of the 2004 Federal Election and Matters Related Thereto. Antony Green’s is particularly interesting. He recommends that:

Optional Preferential Voting be adopted for Commonwealth
elections. Electors should not be forced to invent preference or
arbitrarily assign rankings to candidates about whom they know nothing
and care less, simply to have their ballot paper count for candidates
they do care about and want to see elected. The South Australian
Constitutional Convention suggests this is a reform voters give high
priority to, and evidence from Queensland and New South Wales elections
suggest it would substantially cut the level of informal voting, as
well as improve the workings of Australian democracy.

Why
are you supposed to fill out all the boxes on some ballot papers and
not on others? The answer’s easy. Somewhere, at some stage, governments
have decided that allocating preferences all the way down tickets would
improve their chances, that preferences would flow back their way and
maximise their performance. Others have decided they don’t want to see
the sort of thing that happened in Victoria at the last election with
Family First’s Steve Fielding elected to the Senate with just 1.76% of
the primary vote thanks to preference deals gone wrong, so advocate
optional preferential voting.

Some government heavies are very
keen on voluntary voting – Finance Minister Nick Minchin in particular.
As a former senior Liberal Party official, however, he should recognise
the biggest problem involved with the issue – cost. Election campaigns
are expensive for the parties to run already, with the punters forced
to turn out to vote. Imagine how much more they’d cost if the parties
not only had to persuade electors to back them at the ballot box, but
turn up to the polling booth to begin with. The matter has been debated
in the past by the Liberal Party’s federal executive, who decided it
would all be too expensive.

Optional preferential voting could
offer a compromise – but we’ll only see it if the government thinks
there’s some advantage for it.

Peter Fray

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