The voting process for the Senate needs to be reformed to stop exploitation by micro-parties, says a leading constitutional lawyer who believes the system is “broken”.
Despite micro-parties missing out in the West Australian Senate re-run at the weekend, George Williams has called for the introduction of optional preferential voting, and for a cap on minimum voter support before a candidate can be elected.
Professor Williams, from the University of NSW, cites a “smorgasbord” of 77 candidates in the WA poll as an example of how the sheer number of micro-parties can determine an election result.
Faced with the prospect of having to number each candidate on such a large ballot paper, more than 95 per cent of voters opted for a single figure above the line.
Through a web of complex preference arrangements, micro-parties swap preferences in the hope that one of them wins a seat.
At the general election in September candidates from the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party and Family First were elected to the Senate with just a fraction of the primary vote.
Prof Williams, writing in Fairfax newspapers on Monday, compared the arrangement to a lottery.
He hit out at the exploitation of a “broken electoral system” by micro-parties.
To reform the system he called for optional preference voting, which would dispense with the need to rank all candidates on a ballot paper.
As well candidates who did not reach a minimum number of first preference votes should be eliminated.
Prof Williams suggests a threshold of four per cent as an appropriate minimum, the same level required to obtain public funding and a refund of a candidate’s deposit.