Confusion over Bob Brown’s vote preference claims

Australian Greens leader Senator Bob Brown said this week a law means political parties must discuss preferences for the Senate. However, there is no such law.

In an interview with the ABC’s chief political correspondent, Lyndal Curtis, on Monday, Mr Brown said the law existed. He said “[T]here is a requirement in the Senate by law, a law passed by the big parties, that there must be preference discussions and there must be a preference card handed in to the electoral office a week and a half out from the elections. I think it is wrong.”

When Australians vote for the Senate, almost every party has a box that voters can just mark with a number “1”. If a voter does that, and the party she voted “1” for does not win a seat, then her vote goes to another party. The party she originally voted for gets to decide who gets her vote if that happens. This is often called voting “above-the-line”.

However there is nothing in the law (Section 211 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act) which says that parties have to have an “above-the-line” box, and there is also nothing that says there must be preference discussions.

In an interview with ABC political reporter Leigh Sales on Lateline on Monday night, Mr Brown said the law requires preferences to be handed in to the Australian Electoral Commission, the organisation which runs Australia’s elections. He said:

“I don’t think there should be preference deals.

“I tried in the Senate; I moved a bill for above-the-line voting in the Senate so that voters chose their parties in the order of choice, not the political parties. But of course Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals voted that down ’cause they don’t want voters to have that choice. I think they should.

“And so we’ve got to have preference negotiations because you’ve got to put in a form for preferences to the Electoral Commission a week or two out from the election.”

However if political parties do not choose to have an “above-the-line” box, they do not have to tell the Electoral Commission their preferences.

Mr Brown also said “It’s a perverse system, it should be abolished, but it’s there, the Greens take part in it the same as every other political party.”

Peter Stahel, a spokesman for Mr Brown, said on the Internet chat site Twitter on Tuesday that all parties are required to lodge preferences with the Electoral Commission. He did not directly respond to questions asking which law required preferences. But Mr Stahel also said “[A] group ticket is required for above-the-line voting. So without negotiations voters get cut out”.

3 Responses to “Confusion over Bob Brown’s vote preference claims”
  1. It’s technically true that a party is not absolutely compelled to lodge a preference ticket (called a Group Voting Ticket) for the Senate, but as you point out, the party then does not have an “above the line” box, which would force anyone who wanted to vote for that party to number all the boxes below the line – which can be 80+ numbers to fill in.

    Given the vast majority of voters vote Above the Line, not having a box above the line for voters to use would make it an absolute certainty that this party would get no one elected.

    It’s also technically true that parties aren’t forced to talk with each other about the order of their preferences on their Group Voting Ticket/s, but if everyone else is discussing such things, then a party puts itself at a serious competitive disadvantage if they refuse to discuss such things with the others.

  2. Bradders says:

    I live in ACT, so there are usually no more than 15 candidates “below the line”. However, even when I was living in NSW I voted below the line for two important reasons:
    1. To direct preferences as I wanted, and;
    2. To derive a certain wicked pleasure from choosing my least favourite candidate and voting them last!

    ACT and Tasmania tend to vote below the line since the state/territory elections use a preferential system. So the party preference deals has less effect.

    It doesn’t take that much longer to vote below the line. And if you can’t count too good, you can make up to 3 numbering errors before the vote is informal.

  3. After a discussion on Twitter today, I agree with the people who said “online chat site” isn’t the right description. If I need to refer to it in future, I’ll say “Twitter, the online discussion network”.

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