Wednesday, 24 February 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading
The amendments contained in the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 will ensure our electoral system is open and transparent and allow for the expression of voter intent. The bill responds to key elements of the interim and final reports from the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the 2013 federal election, which were tabled on 9 May 2014 and 15 April 2015 respectively.
The bill proposes to introduce optional preferential voting above the line, with voters to number at least six squares in sequence, except where there are fewer than six squares above the line. It proposes to abolish individual and group voting tickets to return the control of preferences to voters and removes the capacity for an individual to be the registered officer or deputy registered officer of multiple political parties. And it proposes to allow political party logos to appear on ballot papers for both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Contrary to the claims made by the opposition that this bill will lead to 800,000 additional informal votes, the bill contains savings provisions that should actually increase vote formality. The bill allows for a vote to remain formal, even where voters have numbered fewer than six squares above the line. The objective is to capture voter intent by enabling voters to allocate their own preferences on the Senate ballot paper. The bill also proposes an improvement to the vote savings provisions for voters who choose to vote below the line, by increasing the number of allowable mistakes that can be made by voters when they are sequentially numbering their preferences, from the current three mistakes to five mistakes, where 90 per cent of the number of boxes below the line have been filled in correctly, before a vote becomes informal.
The government has prepared minor technical amendments to this bill, which have been circulated to members. The purpose of these amendments is to provide for a count of above-the-line, first-preference votes on Senate ballot papers by assistant returning officers and Divisional Returning Officers and the transmission of the number of first preference votes to Australian Electoral Officers. The bill as it currently stands proposes to remove requirements for assistant returning officers to conduct a count of first-preference votes. The amendments will reinstate a requirement that counting of first-preference Senate votes above the line commences after polling closes, and this will provide to the public an early indication of first-preference votes.
Taken together, the measures in this bill to introduce optional preferential voting above the line, abolish the voting ticket system, enhance savings provisions for voters and print political party logos on ballot papers will give voters greater control over their vote, increase transparency and simplify the Senate voting system. I commend the bill to the House.