Most of what you read about Senate reform will be self-interested, or at least biased. That includes anything I could say. Not so much because of benefits to the Greens, although that is part of the story. Mostly, however out of personal self interest.
My expertise has meant that, hard as I try to get out, I have put under a lot of pressure to be involved with preference negotiations, and I find them repulsive and traumatic. Being placed in a situation where you have a choice between taking a deal you find ethically doubtful and throwing away the hard work of thousands of people which which you expect to be sufficient to get a candidate 80% of a quota is horrible. Even more horrible when you know that not taking the deal will likely mean some shonky candidate with a tenth of your candidate’s support will get in because they are happy to take the same deal. I don’t want to be back there, and naturally that biases my view on the reforms.
Therefore I urge everyone to consult the small number of people who both understand these reforms and don’t have any significant self-interest in the outcome: Antony Green, Charles Richardson, William Bowe, Henry Schlecta, Kevin Bonham and Sarah John of Fairvote.
I think so far the score is five favour with one still to declare. All the criticism I have seen has come from people either with a very significant stake in the fight, or who have made clear they simply don’t understand the way the system works/will work.
That is not to say the proposal is perfect. Nobel prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow proved that it is impossible to design a perfect voting system, and the size of the states as electorates and relative disengagement with the Senate mean that even some options that are close to perfect in principal don’t work too well here.
Nevertheless, I would argue that the version that will be voted on this week is about as good as one could get – greatly improved, by the way, by the efforts of the psephologists referred to above to get reform of the below the line voting added in.
The idea of putting more power in the hands of the voters, and less in the hands of party machine men (and just as with psephology, it almost always is men) is pretty much a no-brainer.
Consequently the arguments against have pretty much been:
1) It could give the coalition control
2) It could reduce diversity by extinguishing minor parties
3) The process has been rushed
I agree with 3), but the reason it has been rushed is largely because some of the cross-benchers were threatening to hold the government to ransom, refusing to support legislation they agreed with because they resented the possibility of losing their place in parliament. I can’t think of much better evidence that these individuals (and I note not all the cross-benchers seemed to be part of this) shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Hardly a reason to oppose good legislation just because it happened a bit fast.
On the other two points; as noted, there are others who you should believe rather than me. But the evidence is that these fears are overblown. Yes the coalition could gain control, but they did this under the current system in 2004. The real question is: Is them gaining control more likely under the proposal than the existing system. It’s actually very hard to say. One can construct scenarios where the proposed system helps them, but others where it does not. There is a fair chance that under the proposal they would not have won control in their own right in 2004, and certainly they would not have had the extra vote of Steve Fielding in the cases where they couldn’t get all of their official team to back them.
Nor will all minor parties miss out. The Palmer United Party would easily have won a seat in Queensland at the last election under the proposal, and possibly WA as well. And of course there is Xenophon, who would have a mate there as well under the proposal. If minor parties form coalitions, as Antony Green has suggested, it is likely we will have quite a few of them elected in future, and a good thing too.
There is a long term trend away from the Coalition and Labor, and the factors driving this will continue. As time goes on we will see more votes for independents and minor parties, and more of these people elected.
What will change is that the minor party that will win will be the one with real support, rather than one that flukes it, or gets a lot of preferences because they lie to people about their true positions. Do people seriously think this is a bad thing?