Feb 25, 2016

Mayne: Senate voting reform will further shaft independent candidates

It has become nigh on impossible for independent Senate candidates to succeed.

Stephen Mayne — Journalist and Founder

Stephen Mayne

Journalist and Founder

One missing factor in the current debate about Senate voting reform is the ongoing shoddy treatment of independent candidates. Greens leader Richard Di Natale quite rightly argued that his party didn’t want to create new barriers to entry for minor players and insisted that federal registration requirements for small parties not be made more onerous. However, while federal party registrations will remain a lower barrier to entry than now applies in most states, it has become nigh on impossible for independent Senate candidates to succeed. When I ran for the Senate in 2010, it was relatively easy to get on the ballot paper, but then the system shafted our team by not allowing any branding presence above the line. The result was a woeful 0.15% of the primary vote. Since then, the deposit for a two-person team has been lifted to $4000 and you need to come with 200 different nominators just to get on the Senate ballot paper. Independents have been successful on more than a dozen occasions (Ted Mack, Andrew Wilkie, Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor, etc) in the House of Representatives since Senate group voting tickets were introduced in 1984, but over those same 32 years, Nick Xenophon is the only independent who has made it into the Senate. This is mainly because individual independents are not even given a presence above the line and registered groups of independents have no party branding, instead trading under the banner of “Group S” or whatever the alphabetical lucky dip delivers. If registered parties are allowed to add logos to their party names above the line, this disenfranchisement of independent Senate candidates will only get worse. This is why Tony Windsor would have a much better chance of beating Barnaby Joyce in his lower house seat of New England than pulling off a NSW Senate victory as a solo independent candidate who doesn’t even get mentioned above the line. If the Greens are genuine about attempting to support other smaller parties, they would also have tackled the completely unfair system of public funding, which gives nothing to candidates who receive less than 4% of the primary vote. When the Senate crossbench joins Malcolm Turnbull for dinner at The Lodge tonight, they should raise this question of the treatment of independents. After all, three of them -- Jacqui Lambie, Glenn Lazarus and John Madigan -- were elected with the backing of a party but are now standing alone. Formerly of the Democratic Labour Party, Madigan has launched the Manufacturing and Farming Party, the Brick with Eyes created a party called Glenn Lazarus Team, and Tasmanians will be offered a chance to vote for the Jacqui Lambie Network party. But why should insider independents be given a fast track to establish their own pop-up parties to build a brand presence above the line when outsiders have all the odds stacked against them? Without even having to bother gathering the normal 500 members, Lambie, Lazarus and Madigan will be able to easily nominate Senate candidates across the country and then deploy the full resources of their Senate offices to support their campaigns. It is extraordinary that the factional cynics in the Labor Party -- and that includes always transactional Bill Shorten -- are opposing the abolition of group voting tickets along with the introduction of optional preferential voting. Former ACTU president and federal Labor MP Jennie George AO was spot on in her letter to The Australian yesterday when she wrote:
"I trust ALP caucus will reject the mindset of the factional operatives who appear intent on opposing the proposed Senate reforms. So used to factional deals themselves, the sacrifice of principle to political opportunism matters little them. The ALP should vote for proposals that give power over electoral outcomes to the voters and not to the backroom operators who have gamed the system."
Niki Savva was also correct in her assessment in The Australian today. Now that Labor spokesman on electoral matters Gary Gray has savaged the Labor position, Bill Shorten should find a way to seek some amendments and then vote in favour of their passage through the Parliament. Instead, it looks like Labor is taking a short-term position to secure cross-bench support for its industrial relations agenda in the Senate, along with favourable preference deals with the minnows at this year’s federal election. Others should also have a good look at themselves. ABC election analyst Antony Green has been responsible for recommending some of the changes which have made it so much harder for independents. When he testifies before a parliamentary committee on Senate reform next Tuesday, he should be asked whether he believes an independent candidate could ever win a seat.

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21 thoughts on “Mayne: Senate voting reform will further shaft independent candidates

  1. Wayne Robinson

    Another reason for getting rid of above the line voting and having optional preferential voting, with voters only being required to number up to the number of senate seats being decided. Independents would be on an equal footing with the major parties. Having logos is a good idea though.

  2. PhoenixGreen

    Another article complaining about things the Greens didn’t ask for because they were clearly outside the scope of the agreement.

    I agree with Mayne’s objective here, but the Greens would have to be pretty cynical to start making demands like political finance reform when the Libs are effectively bartering over whether or not Greens will support their own 12-year old proposal.

    I think the Greens did the right thing by getting Greens policy passed. I’m not going to complain that they didn’t manage to get just a little bit more Greens policy passed as well on the back of such a victory.

  3. Keto Vodda

    There is a broader problem, in most democracies, of voters being disenchanted with both parties. Allowing a modest number of independents, however achieved, leaves the disenchanted voters with some hope that their views might be represented.

    Greater enforcement of a 2 party system may result in rising resentment that those parties would regret.

    Look at the anger in the US voters that may well propel Trump into power.

  4. Jackson Harding

    Umm Nick the only? Anyone recall Brian Harradine? Independant Senator for Tasmania and de facto Prime Minister for much of the Howard era.

  5. Luckyduck

    Are the Greens genuinely Green? Under Di Natale they seem to be the third prong of the LNP -it should be LNPG. Soon they will go the way of the Democrats.

  6. Dog's Breakfast

    Hallelujah Stephen. I’ve argued exactly this on other sites, and up to now was the only person who noticed this.

    This is an attack on independents, pure and simple.

    Because party politics has been so good for us, and just keeps getting better, we need to make sure no-one with an independent mind can get in.

    Unfortunately you’ve included Jennie George’s comments for praise. Can’t follow this line. This will not give power back to the voters, it will take it from the independents preference whisperers and put it in the hands of the party hacks preference whisperers, with voters still disenfranchised.

    If I’m wrong about that, please explain, but having a Labor/Green/LNP hack determine preference flows is not going to be better for our polity, nor enfranchise voters.

    That’s why I have always numbered form 1 to what was it, 285 last time?

  7. Geoff Powell

    Above the line voting (with or without group voting tickets) and party ordered groups disadvantages any party with more than a quota. By electing first on list with huge surplus, after transfer the third on list has far fewer votes than if voters directly choose team members. Their premature elimination has given Greens and micro parties a free kick.

    Sitting Senators savour safe seats rather than winning their fair share of representation. Abolish above the line voting, rotate candidate names, let voters express preferences until they are indifferent. Only then will all candidates be on an equal footing.

  8. David Hand

    The main reason independents get such a raw deal is because nobody votes for them. You may well argue that it is the evil major parties stacking the electoral deck in their favour but Ricky Muir? Jacqui Lambie? Seriously?

    The reason independents are so popular is that they can afford to oppose unpopular policy proposals and will have a cheer squad that agrees with them shouting that it is their independence that makes them potent, when in fact it is merely their populist policy positions. I mean, can you seriously imagine Lambie working her way through the policy conundrums of the difficult choices Australia must make to balance the budget? No. What we can expect is her taking populist positions cheered on by the rent seekers that would gain from such a position.

    I predict that if a DD election occurs under a system where preferences are handed over to voters rather than faceless party men, Lambie, Lazarus and Muir will all be chucked unceremoniously out – by voters.

  9. CML

    Stephen Mayne…this is cr+p!
    Unless everyone votes below the line, they have NO power over who gets their preferences under this so-called reform.
    The outcome in the Senate will be to entrench the LNP, and provide (maybe) a few extra seats for the Greens and Xenaphon.
    I am encouraging everyone I know to vote BTL and put the deal-makers, LNP, Greens and Xenaphon last…or leave them out altogether!
    Your remarks regarding the Labor party, while expected, are just plain wrong. As I understand it, Labor supports the recommendations from the parliamentary committee set up to examine Senate voting reforms. The grubby little deal done by the ‘traitorous three’ does NOT represent those recommendations.
    However, I do agree that the LNP et al have completely shafted the current cross-bench Senators, and any Independent candidates in the future.
    What happens to the 25%+ who DO NOT vote for the majors? Their vote under the new rules would mostly be exhausted…and you think that is ‘democratic’??!!

  10. Angela

    I have read many of Antony Green’s recent blogs on his ABC election page. It is quite obvious that he has little tolerance for independents – specially those from micro-parties. All independents have to start somewhere and I wonder how many votes Nick Xenophon had when he started out.
    Also, I was one of those that scoffed when Ricky Muir got in. I have now changed my view. He has shown that he is the voice of the everyman. He may have been inarticulate at the start (when he got shafted by Mike Willesee) but he has shown himself to ask lots of questions and make decisions based on evidence. I’d like to see more Ricky Muir’s to keep the bastards honest.

    I am very disappointed in Richard Di Natale as I believe he has put forward a model for Senate reform that suits his party’s interests not Senate democracy. Again, the Greens started small …

    Wildcards for the Senate have been mentioned. Bring it on, I say.

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