SPEERS: Okay. Now you are currently looking at aspects of the last election, including the AEC and some of those issues. You’ve already, however, reported an interim report, I think, on the Senate and how that Senate election was run.
SMITH: Yes that’s right.
SPEERS: Now I wanted to ask you about that because in that report you and others were quite critical of some aspects of how micro parties had “gamed the system” in your words and were producing a result that was not what the Australian voters had voted for. Is that still your view? Because we’re not hearing a lot from the Government about that.
SMITH: My view hasn’t changed at all. I mean there’s nothing personal in this but we reached a unanimous position, which is unusual in parliamentary committees, unanimous of Labor, Liberal, and The Greens. And that was to change the way we vote to restore the will to the voter through optional preferential voting—so you’d preference through to the extent that you’d wish—and the abolition of group voting tickets.
SPEERS: You could just vote 1 if you want?
SMITH: You could vote one, two, three or one, two three, four. And some changes to party registration to ensure parties are real and genuine. But we pointed out in that report that when someone can get elected into the Senate with just 0.51 per cent of the primary vote and then through preference deals work like a washing machine and be catapulted into the Senate…
SPEERS: …ie Ricky Muir and the Motoring Enthusiast Party?
SMITH: Yes and we pointed that out. Nothing against him personally but we’re very strong on the fact that that does not represent the considered will of the voters, and it was one of the two issues that left voters demoralised and baffled after the last election. The other was the lost votes debacle in Western Australia.
SPEERS: Well indeed. But do you fear that on those specific reforms you recommended—things like requiring parties to have 1 500 genuine members, optional preferential voting in the Senate—do you fear the Government is going to leave those in the bottom drawer now that it needs those cross-benchers to get anything done in the Senate?
SMITH: Well I felt our job was to work hard early to produce a unanimous report, if we could, and I was pleased to be able to do that, and as you pointed out earlier we’ve reported on it. We made that a priority to give time. Getting the unanimous report, I felt, was important if we could because electoral law should be durable. So we handed that report down on the Friday before the Budget to give time. I never for a minute—having a bit to do with budgets myself in the past—thought it would be a matter for legislation immediately with the appropriations bills and the carbon tax…
SPEERS: Sure, but do you still think it will see the light of day, or have you given up on this based on conversations you’ve had?
SMITH: No, no. I want to see it occur. It’s important that it occur. It’s not urgent that it occur this week or even next month or the month after. But David, let’s go back to what we’re confronting here. A situation in New South Wales, there are 110 boxes on the ballot paper, it’s the maximum printable width, it can’t get any bigger; all they can do is shrink the font and they’re handing out…
SPEERS: Magnifying glasses!
SMITH: Magnifying sheets—it is a nonsense! It is an absolute nonsense.
SPEERS: It is.
SMITH: And if voters were scratching their heads when they saw the ballot paper, they were pulling their hair out when they saw the results. That’s just a fact.
SPEERS: Tony Smith, thanks for joining us this afternoon.
SMITH: Thanks David, good to be with you.
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