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Simplifying the Senate

By Syd Hickman - posted Thursday, 3 October 2013

The solution to the undemocratic and complex mess that Senate voting has become is relatively simple. Abolish below-the-line voting and the flow of preferences between lists, with full quotas and then the largest partial quotas to win the available number of seats.

Preferential voting makes sense when there is only one person to be elected. It ensures the candidate most people are willing to accept gets elected, even if that person fails to get the highest number of first preference votes.

But where six people are to be elected, or twenty two, as in the case of the NSW Upper House, it makes no sense to distribute preferences. The quotas themselves will give a fair representation of the will of the electorate.


Preferences would still flow down lists, so if the ALP won two quotas it would get its top two candidates elected. If only four candidates achieved full quotas when six seats were in contention then the remaining two seats would be filled by the two biggest partial quotas.

It is clearly more democratic for Senators to be selected by the highest number of voters directly supporting them, rather than by a mysterious, complex and possibly corrupt flow of preferences between parties with hardly any popular support.

The abolition of below the line voting would make no difference to outcomes as it has been used only by political obsessives and those votes often remain as part of the dead quota. (A quota is the number of seats to be filled plus one, divided into 100. So if there are six Senate spots to be filled the quota will be roughly 14.3% of the vote. After six quotas are filled there are still 14.3% of the votes left as remainder.)

To further enhance the democratic nature of the vote, a valid vote could be defined as one where the first preference is clear. That means that if a voter mistakenly gives a second, third and other preferences above the line that will not make the vote invalid as long as the number one is clear.

In the recent senate election this system would have produced a better result in terms of expressing the will of the electorate. (These figure are rounded and in some cases not final but are unlikely to change significantly.)

In South Australia it would have returned two Liberal Senators (1.93 quotas), two ALP (1.6 quotas) plus two Xenophon (1.74quotas). The second Xenophon candidate, with 0.74 of a quota in primary vote, would have replaced the Green elected with 0.5 of a quota in primary vote plus preferences, and the second ALP Senator would have replaced the Family First Senator elected with 0.26 of a quota plus preferences.


In WA it would have returned two ALP (1.86 quotas), three Liberals (2.76 quotas) and one Green (0.66 quotas). The Green, with 0.66 of a quota would have replaced the PUP candidate elected with 0.35 of a quota plus preferences.

In NSW two Coalition at 2.4 quotas, two ALP (2.2 quotas), one Liberal Democrat (0.66 quotas) and one Green (0.55quotas). The Coalition would lose one seat won with 0.4 of a quota plus preferences to the Green with 0.55 quotas in primary vote.

In Tasmania three Coalition (2.62 quotas), two ALP (2.3 quotas) and one Green (0.8 quotas) would have been elected. That means the Sex Party candidate, with 0.1 of a quota in primary vote plus preferences, would have been replaced by a Liberal with 0.63 of a quota in primary vote.

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About the Author

Syd Hickman has worked as a school teacher, soldier, Commonwealth and State public servant, on the staff of a Premier, as chief of Staff to a Federal Minister and leader of the Opposition, and has survived for more than a decade in the small business world.

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