Thursday, 17 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee
The answer is no, it does not make it redundant. The second answer is that this is consistent with repeated and ongoing judgements of the High Court. We always ought to apply these sorts of laws erring on the side of the franchise. Where there is a clear indication of voter intent, voter intent should be taken into account when counting ballot papers. Given that Labor introduced the system in 1984, which meant that everyone for more than 30 years has had to vote just 1 above the line, if we did not have the sort of savings provision that we have put forward as part of our proposal, we would indeed have an increased number of informals. Indeed, quite erroneously, Senator Dastyari on the day that we made our announcement of these reforms pressed out and said there would be 800,000 additional informal votes, because he assumed that everyone who would vote 1 above the line would all of a sudden have their vote discarded. That was, of course, wrong.
We think it is very important to have a savings provision. We do think it is very important to ensure that, where there is clear voter intent, that voter intent is counted to the extent that it has been expressed. Obviously, if only one preference is expressed above the line, you cannot keep allocating preferences beyond that, but that is the voter's choice. The voter will be advised to vote above the line and number six boxes 1 to 6 in order of their preference. Where such a system does exist—namely, in the ACT—the experience has been that only a very small number of voters do not follow that instruction. Our expectation is that voters overwhelmingly will follow the instruction that is on the ballot paper, and that is to vote for the Senate above the line and number at least six boxes 1 to 6 in order of their preference.