Call us on 1300 794 893

The Experts

The Senate voting system: confusion, deception and manipulation

Malcolm Mackerras
Thursday, June 20, 2019

Bookmark and Share

On the afternoon of Tuesday 18 June there was published on the website of the Australian Electoral Commission these final two-party preferred vote aggregates: 7,344,813 for the Coalition (51.5%) and 6,908,530 for Labor (48.5%). Since the Coalition had secured 50.4% nationwide in July 2016, that means Scott Morrison’s Coalition has achieved a swing in its favour of 1.1%. Beyond recording these statistics, I have nothing to add to or subtract from my most recent article “Why did ScoMo win only one seat more than Malcolm Turnbull did in 2016?

On the same afternoon, there were posted the final Senate results for all eight jurisdictions. When I have time to digest all the statistics, I shall post my overall analysis on this Switzer website.

In the meantime, I discuss certain details of interest to me arising from the election of senators for New South Wales and Tasmania. These details illustrate why I hate the Senate voting system. In short, my objection is that those politicians who designed it set out to confuse, to deceive and – most important of all - to manipulate the voters. They did that to the benefit of the machines of the two biggest political parties. It is not surprising, therefore, that I object to the behaviour of the Liberal Party in the first case and to Labor’s behaviour in the second. In the third case, I commend the wise decision of the Tasmanian Liberal Party to place a popular senator at the top of its ticket.

In New South Wales, only one incumbent senator has been re-elected, Mehreen Faruqi of the Greens. Three senators have been defeated, Jim Molan from the Liberal Party, Brian Burston from Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party and Duncan Spender from the Liberal Democrats. It is the defeat of Molan that excites my hostility as I explained in my article posted here on Thursday 13 December 2018 titled “What a Disgrace!” Let me quote myself from that article:

“Before his election Senator Jim Molan (Liberal, NSW) was Retired Major-General Jim Molan AO DSC and he has the distinction of being the highest-ranked former military commander to enter any Australian parliament for sixty years. A decent party would want to keep such a senator. Molan, after all, was the man who stopped the boats, surely Tony Abbott’s greatest achievement as Prime Minister. Not this Liberal Party, however. The party bosses wanted to keep a trouble-maker like Craig Kelly in his seat (Hughes) but the NSW machine decided to single out Molam for defeat. After that defeat the party bosses will pretend that Molan was defeated by the vote of the people!”

Here are the NSW statistics, the quota for election being 670,761 votes. The total formal vote was 4,695,326 of which 1,810,121 was for the Coalition (38.6%) and 1,400,295 was for Labor (29.8%). Within the Coalition, the votes begin with the lead candidate, Hollie Hughes (Liberal), who scored 1,664,188 votes of which 28,336 were cast below the line. The remaining votes were 2,533 for Andrew Bragg (Liberal – elected), 3,030 for Perin Davey (National – elected), 137,325 for Jim Molan (Liberal – defeated), 959 for Sam Farraway (National – not elected) and 2,086 for Michael Feneley (Liberal, not elected).

So Molan scored 54 votes for every one vote for Bragg and 45 votes for every one vote for Davey. Yet Bragg and Davey are certified to have been “directly chosen by the people”, while Molan came nowhere near having any chance to be re-elected. That is because the machine wanted Bragg but did not want Molan.

The July 2016 Senate election in Tasmania was utterly peculiar in every way. Anyway, two senators were dumped to unwinnable positions by their big-party machines. They were Labor’s Lisa Singh and Richard Colbeck of the Liberal Party. Both campaigned for below-the-line votes in much the same way as Molan did in May 2019. Both beat the machine – Singh immediately and Colbeck after the High Court’s exercise of its power. (See my article “Judges in our High Court are Pharisees”, posted Thursday 10 May 2018).

In 2019, the Labor Party set out with a determination to defeat Singh – and succeeded in much the same way as the Liberals with Molan. The total formal vote was 351,988 so the quota for election was 50,285 votes. Labor’s score was 107,670 votes or 30.6%. Here are the numbers ranked in the order of candidates. The lead candidate was Senator Carol Brown who scored 83,829 votes of which 5,921 were cast below the line. The remaining votes were 1,588 for Senator Catryna Bilyk (elected), 1,217 for John Short (not elected), 19,984 for Senator Lisa Singh (defeated), 366 for Wayne Roberts (not elected) and 686 for Robert Flanagan (not elected).

So Singh scored 13 votes for every one vote for Bilyk but Bilyk was re-elected and Singh defeated. Singh never had a chance because the machine wanted Bilyk and Short but was determined to punish Singh for having defeated the machine in 2016.

Whereas the NSW Liberal Party and Tasmanian Labor displayed their mean-ness in relation to Molan and Singh the Tasmanian Liberals displayed maturity in relation to Colbeck. They placed him top of the ticket in a team of only three candidates. It scored a total of 110,730 votes or 31.5%. Senator Colbeck scored 106,577 votes of which 15,298 were cast below the line. The second candidate, Claire Chandler, was also elected with 1,687 votes but the third candidate, Tanya Denison, was not elected with 2,466 votes.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au. His website can be visited at www.malcolmmackerras.com)

Published: Thursday, June 20, 2019


New on Switzer

blog comments powered by Disqus
Pixel_admin_thumb_300x300 Pixel_admin_thumb_300x300