It’s electoral reform a go-go, with Special
Minister of State Eric Abetz set to unveil his wish list for changes to the voting system tonight at the Sydney Institute. His wish
list, because there are some interesting politics involved here.

Firstly, Abetz has decided that there’s no
point waiting for the all party, House of Representatives and Senate Joint
Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report next week into what we can learn
from the 2004 election – and not just because its chair, MHR Tony Smith, has
leaked
what he wants it to say.

Secondly, even though the Senate is sitting,
Abetz is outlining his proposals outside the Parliament. That’s a discourtesy.
Ministerial statements clearly aren’t good enough for Abetz.

Thirdly, the proposals appear to have not
yet gone to Cabinet, going by this morning’s media reports.

Finally, they’re “his” reforms due to the
focus being paid to voluntary voting. This is an obsession of the national
right faction of the Liberal Party and its standard bearers, Nick Minchin and
Abetz.

The Nationals don’t like voluntary voting. Their
Senate Leader, Ron Boswell laid made that very clear on AM.
“The National Party has always supported compulsory voting,” he said. “It is a
policy we’ve had for many years and the reason we have it is that we believe it
gives ownership to the people of a Government. If they help to elect a
Government then they have particular ownership in it.”

That seems to scuttle a move to voluntary
voting – but even if the Nats acquiesced, it’s hard to see the Liberal moneymen
backing such a move. It costs enough to get people out to vote for you, let
alone having to get them out to vote in the first place. And why would that
ultimate pragmatist, John Howard, rock the boat?

There’ll be keen interest in what Abetz has
to say tonight – but it might be better to wait until the Government Party Room
has spoken.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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