ELLIOTT: And the mere fact every now and then people’s supposedly confidential data gets hacked.
ELLIOTT: Okay, now what about… I’ve opened up the discussion—and not for the first time—about voluntary versus compulsory voting?
SMITH: Have you?
ELLIOTT: Well only because it seems to me with almost a million Victorians doing pre-poll votes, I reckon a lot of them are people who without the stick of a fine above them probably wouldn’t bother to vote. Is anyone like yourself in the Federal Parliament thinking about changing our compulsory voting system?
SMITH: I’m going to say no. There’s no movement whatsoever. I don’t mind admitting to you many years ago to you, Tom; seven, eight, nine, ten years ago, I personally argued in the Parliament for voluntary voting—and I’ve got to say I found myself an orphan, I really did. I was on this very Committee and everyone heard me out politely, and when it came to the report, I was the only one with my hand up.
ELLIOTT: So "thank you, here’s the door".
SMITH: Yeah, but it’s an interesting point because a lot of Australians assume we’ve always had compulsory voting and it’s not true. It was introduced in the 1920s…
ELLIOTT: Yes, that’s right.
SMITH: …and it was voluntary voting up until then.
ELLIOTT: Well tell me, we had a call before Valerie that voluntary voting inherently favours the conservatives. Is that true?
SMITH: I’ve never given that consideration. Although interestingly—both you and I follow history—it was introduced after a big push by the Country Party because they thought that it meant farmers weren’t voting in the voluntary elections. So, I mean in Australia, of course, it’s compulsory for you to be enrolled and it’s compulsory for you to turn up and get a ballot paper…
ELLIOTT: But you don’t actually have to vote, do you?
SMITH: No, you don’t. You can write nothing on it, or you can write people like me a nice message.
ELLIOTT: Now on that, we had a caller who rings us regularly—Denis, I think it was—and he reckons that if enough people write a message like "reduce immigration" that people like you will take notice of it. Is that true?
SMITH: Well they never give us a tally of what’s written.
SMITH: And, you know, the informal vote is made up of… I mean, the AEC actually do a big analysis of it—which they’re still doing on the last election—but it’s made up of a mixture of people making errors and not filling out all the boxes, some people just putting ‘1’, because they don’t understand the system, and people deliberately spoiling the ballot paper, which is their right. So we’re fairly unique, we’re unique in that we have that. It works quite well, I’ve got to say. And we‘re unique really in having elections on Saturdays, too.
ELLIOTT: That’s right. In Britain, I think, they’re on Tuesdays, I believe. Tell me, finally, the voting system. Now, the upper house, it’s different at state and federal level, but I challenge anybody to really understand how upper house votes are counted. Could we not have a simpler system? At the moment, people just have to vote for one party and see all the preferences distributed, or they have to vote for every single candidate—and there might be a couple of hundred of them—are you thinking about changing that?
SMITH: Federally, we are because earlier this year our Committee brought down a report saying a number of things, but the most important in answer to your question is introduce optional preferential voting above the line in the Senate. At the moment, your choice is vote ‘1’ and have the preferences allocated by the party group voting tickets, or fill out every single box below the line. So we said optional preferential voting: you fill out as many numbers as you want above the line, you preference to the extent you wish. So that’s been our recommendation and…
ELLIOTT: Instead of voting for individuals, you could say: Coalition ‘1’, Nationals ‘2’, Labor ‘3’, Greens ‘4’; you could vote for the parties like that, and then you decide which candidates underneath get up?
SMITH: Yeah but only down their tickets. What you couldn’t do is have these preference deals between the parties and create a lottery.
SMITH: And I mean, Tom, in New South Wales—Victoria was also as bad—but in New South Wales at the least federal election, there were 110 boxes on the ballot paper. It is its maximum printable width.
ELLIOTT: Exactly, and you can’t possibly know all those candidates, can you?
SMITH: Of course you can’t. Even political tragics would be struggling after fifty. And you know what the AEC is doing? Because they can’t print a bigger ballot paper, they’re shrinking the font and they’re handing…
SMITH: …Tom, they’re handing out magnifying plastic sheets.
ELLIOTT: Something’s got to change.
SMITH: That’s right, so that’s been our recommendation and you’ve got a similar thing going on down there in the Upper House.
ELLIOTT: Alright, well we’ll see what happens on November 29. Tony Smith, member for Casey and Chair of the Electoral Matters Committee, thanks for your time.
SMITH: Thanks Tom.
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