Transcript of interview with Peter van OnselenSky News – PVO News Hour
Wednesday 30 July 20147:20pm
SUBJECTS: Mr Clive Palmer MP, Senate voting reform; Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Well the Joint Standing Committee that you saw there into electoral matters sat in Canberra today obviously hoping to hear from one of its high profile witnesses as we just saw, but Clive Palmer—he never turned up! The Chair of that Committee is Liberal MP Tony Smith who was briefly there on screen. He faces the unenviable task of pushing through electoral reform at a time when the Government is attempting to placate the micro-parties for the sake of Senate votes. I spoke to Tony Smith a short time ago and I started by asking him if he feels like the Lone Ranger trying to achieve this reform.
TONY SMITH: Well look, as you know, we examined it very thoroughly and we’re at a point now where the Senate ballot paper in New South Wales and Victoria is the maximum printable width and they’re handing out magnifying sheets.
VAN ONSELEN: It’s utterly ridiculous and people are gaming the system. We’ve got people that your Government has to deal with who are gaming the system, which is why I’m sort of wondering whether you’re worried that some of the powers that be are being a little bit timid on this. Even if they are being timid, do you reckon there will be a cobra strike of reform by the time we get to the next election, at the very least?
SMITH: Well look, it’s not urgent this week or even next month or the one after. We deliberately reported early to give time for consideration and for legislation. And we only handed it down just before the Budget. I didn’t ever expect there would be legislation when the appropriation bills were going through or the Carbon tax would be abolished, but it’s precisely why we produced the report early.
VAN ONSELEN: Ok, so sorry to interrupt Mr Smith, but let me ask you this. Let’s assume that you get it through at whatever point, as you say, down the track there’s plenty of time to get it through. What’s the essence of your recommendations? So if the legislation for change to the way the Senate does business goes through, if the government does adopt it, and there’s no reason to think it won’t… if that’s the case, what will be different?
SMITH: Well, what will be different is that when you vote, you will have full control over your preferences. So at the moment, if you vote above the line you forfeit your preferences to the parties group voting tickets, and …
VAN ONSELEN: And that’s it then, it exhausts after that…
SMITH: That’s right. So what we are saying is optional preferential where you preference to the extent you wish, above the line. And to introduce a limited form below the line and then critically, enhance party registration so that…
VAN ONSELEN: And below the line can I ask, if you do go below the line, how many boxes you have to fill for it to be a legitimate vote? Can I stop at three or four or five, or do I have to fill out, I think, somewhere in the order of perhaps 29 or 30, like it is now?
SMITH: No, that’s a good question. It’s something that’s been lost in a lot of the coverage of it. We’re recommending six in the normal half-senate election, being the number of Senators you’re electing. It’d be 12 in a double dissolution. And the reason we’re doing that is that at the moment. if you decide to vote below the line, you’re still being forced to preference for candidates and parties you’ve got no idea about. I mean, even for people intimately involved in politics like you and I, I mean I challenge you in NSW…
VAN ONSELEN: Well the sheer number that they force you to fill out –you wouldn’t have a clue! Ok so you’re limiting it ideally to six at a half-Senate election. That sounds pretty reasonable to me. What about this though… there must be some concern about having different systems of preferential voting between upper and lower houses. You’re not allowed to exhaust preferences when you vote for the lower house, but you will be allowed to do it under this sort of system for the upper house. Are you worried that some people are going to exhaust their voters in their lower house votes, and therefore render invalid votes?
SMITH: Well no, we’ve had 2 different systems for a long period of time. Not only that, you make a point about the differences in those systems. There are differences of course between federal elections and some state elections. In NSW you’ve got optional preferential voting in the lower house. But you always have these elements of confusion. It’s one of the reasons why with optional preferential voting above the line in the senate, we said you should encourage people to express preferences to the extent they have them. But if they’ve just voted one, for instance, that’s no change than the current system of voting above the line.
VAN ONSELEN: Alright Tony Smith, so just to clarify though, do you have any changes recommended for the lower house as well?
SMITH: No, we haven’t turned our attention to the lower house. Our focus was on the Senate because it was really, at the last federal election… voters came away a bit demoralized by how that Senate voting process worked. Confronting the ballot paper to begin with, and seeing some of the results that they found rather baffling.
VAN ONSELEN: Alright Tony Smith, we appreciate your time on the program. Thanks very much.
SMITH: Thanks Peter.
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