australianvoice (australianvoice) wrote,

Did the Greens Make the Senate More Democratic?

After Senator Di Natale became the leader of the Greens, people who pay close attention to events in our Parliament began to notice a new phenomenon. In the past, under Christine Milne, the Greens were reluctant to make “deals” with the LNP. Suddenly the Greens broke from the Labor-Greens-Independents' opposition to LNP legislation.

One of their last “deals” before the current election was to change the voting system for the Senate. The change to the previous Senate voting removes the use of Group Voting Tickets. To the Greens, this system “gives political parties power over the preference choices of ordinary people who vote Above the Line.” On their view this allows “backroom party deals” to determine preferences. The Greens Party sees these changes as “the most democratic way to fix the Senate voting system.”(GV) The change is seen as removing the power of political parties to determine preferences, and allows everyone to choose preferences themselves.

We should realize that it was only the Greens and the LNP who thought there was anything wrong with the system in the first place. As more and more people have become disappointed with the major parties, voters have given more and more support to a range of minor parties and independents. In fact the Greens themselves got a foothold in politics thanks to this system. The LNP thought these Senators made the Senate “unworkable”, meaning that they did not blindly approve all LNP legislation. Many people consider the relatively independent Senate as a way to keep the party controlling the lower house honest. And indeed, this has always been the justification for a democratic system with two “houses” elected in different ways.


According to the Greens, their Senate changes make it “more democratic”. The problem is that such a justification relies on what you think an “ideal” democracy might look like. How else can you say one system is more or less democratic than another? Judging the “reform” as better or worse when compared to some ideal democratic system is a real can of worms. Instead I will begin to look at this “reform” from another perspective. What are the real-world consequences of this change for the Australian political system today?

The real consequences of this change are explained in a article by Peter Breen entitled “How Quickly They Forget: Greens Look To Wipe Out Independents, Minor Parties in Senate Voting Reform.” In Australia at the moment the political parties are not all the same. An election is not like a horse race where all start at the same point and run over the same distance. It may look like a “fair” race but the new first-past-the-post system has a hidden bias for the LNP. Why? The actual voting behaviour of people who vote for the Liberals and the National Party is different from people who vote for other parties:

“Under any form of first-past-the-post voting system, the last Senate seat in each of the six states will generally come down to a three-cornered contest between the Coalition, Labor and the Greens. In such a contest, Labor and the Greens would be seriously disadvantaged as the flow of preferences is unreliable, unlike the Coalition where almost 100 per cent of Nationals votes go to the Liberals and vice versa. Ultimately, there will be little chance of Labor and the Greens controlling the Senate, even though the chances for the Coalition gaining control after just two or three half-Senate elections will be quite good – better than 50/50 in fact.”(HQ)


The reality is that the LNP only needs between 39% and 43% of the primary vote to get three of the six senate seats in any state. That is around 40% of the primary vote gets 50% of the seats. Even worse, they could get four seats – 66% of six seats – with 54% of the votes.(HQ) Compare that with you idea of an ideal democratic system!

Another comment by Peter Breen might give some of the Greens supporters something to think about:

“The Coalition often achieves more than 53.4 per cent while Labor and the Greens rarely poll better than 57.2 per cent. Further down the track, Labor and the Greens will need to consider running on a joint ticket to have any prospect of competing with the Coalition in the Senate if the proposed voting changes go ahead.”(HQ)

In other words, under the new system the LNP will very likely control the Senate in their own right, and the only hope for either Labor or the Greens is to work as closely together as the two parties in the LNP do. Do you think this how Senator Di Natale sees the future for the Greens? On the evidence, I think he has no intention of such a coalition.


GV: Senate voting reform – Greens plan to protect small parties, voters’ to decide preferences

HQ: How Quickly They Forget: Greens Look To Wipe Out Independents, Minor Parties in Senate Voting Reform

Everything you don't understand about Senate voting reform (and are afraid to admit)

Senate reform could boost Nick Xenophon, kill off minor parties
Tags: archive, australian politics

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