Senate voting reform gets nod


The coalition, Labor and the Greens have agreed to change the Senate voting system after micro-parties turned it into an "unfunny joke".

A new report sounds the death knell of the metre-long Senate ballot paper.

Voters have witnessed an explosion in the number of candidates and so-called micro-parties running in recent Senate elections.

The Liberal-Nationals coalition, Labor and the Greens have jointly called for new laws to overhaul the Senate voting system and party registration rules.

At present, voters must either put a "1" in only one box above the line or fill in every box below the line on a ballot paper.

Voting above the line hands the flow of preferences over to the parties that lodge "group voting tickets" with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

There have been concerns that group voting tickets have been exploited by very small parties, enabling candidates to win with a tiny proportion of the vote.

In the case of the 2013 election, Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party candidate Ricky Muir won a Victorian Senate seat with only 0.51 per cent of the primary vote.

In NSW, the electoral commission issued a magnifying glass to help voters read the ballot paper, which had 110 candidate names on it.

In a unanimous report handed down on Friday, the joint standing committee on electoral matters recommends abolishing group and individual voting tickets.

Voters would be able to cast preferences above the line, with any preferences deemed to run through each nominated party's listed candidates in their nominated order before moving on to the next nominated party.

If voters want to cast their ballot below the line, they would only need to fill in at least six boxes for a half-Senate election, 12 for a full Senate election and two for any territory Senate election.

The report also calls for parties to have 1500 members before they can register with the AEC, and wants Senate candidates to be required to reside in the state or territory in which they stand.

Committee chairman and Liberal MP Tony Smith said the changes would end the distortion in the voting system and put preferences back into the hands of voters.

Mr Smith said voters he had spoken to after the 2013 election believed the result in the Senate was a "pretty unfunny joke".

"This has been corroding democracy for a while," Mr Smith said.

Deputy chairman and Labor MP Alan Griffin said it would be the biggest change to the system since 1949 and require a significant education campaign.

Greens spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon said the changes would better reflect the will of voters and bring backroom party preference deals to an end.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has backed the reforms, saying the 2013 election was a "tipping point".

"Such a weakness in our electoral system brings our democracy into disrepute," he said.

The minister in charge of electoral matters, Senator Michael Ronaldson, said the system needed to "evolve" and the government would take on board the recommendations.

Source AAP

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