11 March 2010

Rudd Govt floats electoral reform

The Federal Government has released the second of its green papers on electoral reform.

The paper, titled Strengthening Australia’s Democracy, outlines a variety of ideas for reform, including suggestions such as introducing optional preferential voting and a threshold of support for representation in the Senate.

In launching the green paper, Special Minister of State, Senator Joe Ludwig (pictured) observed that “many of our electoral laws originate from a time before computers or modern communications. It’s important we take stock of the laws so we have a system that makes sense for the 21st century.”

Also covered are matters that some suggest can be safely ‘ruled out’, such as proportional representation in the lower house, single-member constituencies in the upper and a return to first-past-the-post.

Some of the key points contained within the green paper include: -

• reforming the electoral redistribution processes so they are held more frequently and set to a timetable;

• imposing financial penalties on resigning MPs for causing a by-election; &

• granting the vote to sixteen-year-olds.

It has also been suggested that a Tasmanian-style recount procedure replace the current situation where the choice is effectively made by the party of the vacating member.

There may also be a return to allowing voters to use the same number more than once on their ballot paper in order to reduce the number of informal votes.

Automatic enrolment processes are also under the spotlight. For example, personal details provided to other government agencies could be used to place people on the electoral roll. This is viewed as a remedy to the problem where the Australian Electoral Commission does very well at removing wrongly enrolled voters from the roll, but not so well at placing unenrolled voters on the roll in the first place.

Importantly, the Howard Government’s changes which required stringent requirements for proof of identity are likely to be axed in any subsequent reform legislation, as well as the controversial move to close the electoral roll almost immediately after the issue of writs.

The Rudd Government will be encouraging debate within the community with public submissions on the green paper to close 27 November.

For more information about the green paper, please visit www.pmc.gov.au/consultation/elect_reform/index.cfm

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