Whilst the polls continue to predict a close result in the House of Reps the outcome in the Senate remains unknown. For some years many Australians have had the habit of voting for one of the major parties in the lower house and switching to a minor party in the Senate. The proportional representation voting system in this house has meant that minor parties often held the balance of power with the success first of Democratic Labour, then the Democrats and now the Greens. The last Senate has seen this feature continue to grow with extra influences including big money (Palmer United) ballot position plus name (Lib Dems) and preference deals (Motoring Enthusiasts).
The recent changes to the way in which a ballot in the Senate can be cast may have solved one problem (preference deals) but created others. We can now vote above the line 1 to 6 showing our preference for parties or you can vote below the line 1 to 12 (at least) for each candidate. By adopting the latter choice you decide the order of candidates and not the party. There is so little difference between the energy required to number to 12 rather than 6 that in many ways the above the line vote is now superfluous and an added complication.
Another complication is how widely understood (or misunderstood) the changes are to the general population. Two well educated friends I have talked to both assumed that a 1 vote above the line was still valid. Reports indicate that a single 1 vote above the line will be counted as will 1 to 6 below the line. The problem with the single vote above the line is that it may be quickly exhausted – especially if that vote is to a minor party with two candidates. This dramatically increases the chances of a candidate being elected with only a part quota and a small primary vote – something the changes were supposed to remove. Add to these complications the trend to the minor parties, throw in a few wild cards like Xenothon in SA and the results may be that the Senate crossbench remains the about the same of even gets a bit bigger.
My predictions over the last 20 years, for what they’re worth, have been a mixed bag. Those on economic matters have been particularly woeful although I did predict by a month or two the collapse of the dotcom boom in 2000(?). My political predictions may be slightly better but my most recent one about the Renewable Energy Party – that they would not be able to get the numbers to be registered before this election – was also well wide of the mark. Whenever I am asked about the Senate I tell my friends to vote below the line. One can only hope that in Victoria we can elect an ordinary worker or two rather than a media ‘personality’ and that the climate change denier ranks are thinned a bit more.