16 November 2019
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Here's why we need a new Victorian system

Malcolm Mackerras
26 September 2019

With Australia’s federal parliament out of session for three weeks, the attention of analysts now turns to state parliaments. If one has a special interest in moral questions that would mean abortion law reform in New South Wales or assisted dying legalisation in Western Australia. However, I have no opinions on either subject that would interest readers, so I turn instead to Victoria where I currently seek to play a part in the electoral reform process.

The Parliament of Victoria has an Electoral Matters Committee and it is currently holding an inquiry into all questions arising from the conduct of the November 2018 state election. That Committee is the equivalent of the federal Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which is now holding an inquiry into all aspects arising from the conduct of the May 2019 federal election. The federal JSCEM gets a lot more media attention that Victoria’s EMC. Nevertheless, the EMC has received 104 submissions, of which mine is number 12.

There was only one truly controversial aspect of the 2018 Victorian election. In the Legislative Council election, eight non-incumbent micro party candidates “stole” seats from bigger parties, courtesy of the business model of “preference whisperer” Glenn Druery. The EMC submissions indicate near unanimity that Druery should be put out of business by the introduction of a new proportional representation system that cannot be “gamed” by micro-parties winning seats in that way.

Huge fees were paid to Druery by aspiring minor-party and micro-party candidates – though the exact sums remain a secret. Naming the eight successful candidates begins with three from Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, Catherine Cumming in the Western Metropolitan Region, Stuart Grimley in Western Victoria and Tania Maxwell in Northern Victoria. Meanwhile in May 2019 Derryn Hinch himself lost the Senate seat he had won in July 2016.

The Liberal Democrats secured the election of two new members of the Legislative Council, David Limbrick in South-Eastern Metropolitan and Tim Quilty in Northern Victoria. The other three winners were Rodney Barton of Transport Matters in Eastern Metropolitan, Clifford Hayes of Sustainable Australia in Southern Metropolitan and Andy Meddick of the Animal Justice Party in Western Victoria.

I spare readers all the details but mention one case as an example. In the Eastern Metropolitan Region incumbent Greens member Samantha Dunn (who was first elected in 2014) received 34,957 votes (8.4 per cent) but lost to Barton of Transport Matters who received only 2,508 votes (0.6 per cent). Transport Matters is the classic case of a micro-party. It was set up by disgruntled taxi drivers!

Labor’s 2018 vote was so high it did not suffer in any way at Druery’s hands. Nevertheless, the Greens lost four of their five previous seats, the Liberal Party lost three and the Nationals one, total eight. Those three parties naturally want to win back the seats “stolen” from them by Druery. Labor, meanwhile, fears that as its vote declines (sure to happen in 2022) it will become the new victim of his business model.

In those circumstances it would be astonishing if there were not a new system for electing upper house members – one that cannot be “gamed”. For me, however, the interesting thing is the detail of the new system.

As readers would know, I disapprove of the way the Senate system has been reformed. That reform was designed with the sole purpose of driving Druery out of business - not good enough a motive for me. Consequently, my submission proposes a new Victorian system that would be a good system in itself – and would also have the effect of driving Druery out of business. My submission has the support of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia, of which I am not a member.

The PRSA has the reputation of standing on the moral high ground – as I hope is my reputation. I think we have a good chance of success. I’ll let readers know when there is an outcome.

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

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