I was wrong.
The three words that every person hates to admit fell out of my mouth when the final Senate results were announced. Back when the new voting reforms were passed by the Coalition and Greens I thought that this would spell the end of minor representation in Australia, but I was wrong and I’m excited about it.
Don’t misconstrue my message though, the rise of the anti-immigration far-right, and the leaning of Australia towards protectionism hasn’t got me jumping for joy either; you won’t find a closet Hanson or Xenophon supporter here. But what has me thrilled with our new system is how genuinely representative our Senate finally is.
Brandis says this senate crossbench “will be somewhat easier to deal with” than the last *grabs popcorn*
— Mark:Di-Stefano (@MarkDiStef) August 4, 2016
And don’t take my word for it, look at the first preference Senate numbers nationally.
The Liberal Democrats, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, Family First, and the Jacqui Lambie Network all won 1.3% of the seats with 2.2%, 1.9%, 1.4% and 0.5% respectively. Nick Xenophon won 3.9% of the seats from 3.3% of the vote. Pauline Hanson was a controversial winner, but attracted 4.3% to win 5.3% of the Senate.
While our current system will never match these numbers together perfectly, they are very close to what the population of Australia voted for. In fact, it’s the major parties that are pulling off the lucky results.
The Turnbull government is going to be mightily displeased with the upper house result, their party should be happy, winning 35.2% of the national vote, but 39.5% of the seats. Likewise, Labor exceeded their fair share, commanding 34.2% of the chamber with only 29.8% of the vote. And the Greens, who partnered with the Coalition to affect the Senate changes, managed to win as well, picking up 11.8% of seats with just 8.7% of the vote.
The rise of minor parties on the crossbench, which has been compared to the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars, has been seen by many as a disaster and a failing of the voting system, but clearly all it has meant is that democratic representation has improved across the country. The double-dissolution election also made this result a reality, with a lower quota required across the states for election.
The Labor Party have been quick to attack the voting changes for bringing One Nation back into the spotlight. Whatever your opinion is that particular party and what they stand for, it is utterly ridiculous that any party should receive 5.5% of the vote and garner no representation. That’s just not democratic.
It seems more worthy to me that today we should be in mourning for the Australian Sex Party/Marijuana Party joint ticket (pardon the pun), that won more votes nationally than Bob Day and Jacqui Lambie, but aren’t seated in the chamber.
The problems therein lie with our anachronistic system. When the model was adapted from the United States Senate, the Australian ‘red room’ was a safeguard against the evils of Federation, protecting the little guys against bullying from the giant states. But why do we need this anymore?
When most citizens are advocating for more federal government influence in our lives through nationalised healthcare programs, and country-wide education curricula, what do the states need protecting from? As we see in the Senate more and more, the members are voting on party lines and will not cross the floor on legislation that will benefit or harm their state anyway!
And when national programs are being held back or significantly affected by a Tasmanian, who is elected by a quota one-thirteenth the votes than that of a New South Welshman, then is the system really all that fair?
The other Senatorial problem facing our nation is that the whim of a nation over an election day or season can be a mistake that drags on for six years. The current anti-immigration sentiment directed towards Muslims in Australia will last through One Nation for a while yet.
So here is my radical proposal for the Senate moving forward: every election is a national vote, full-Senate election (or double-dissolution, if you like).
Let’s do away with state lines and do away with 6-year terms! We are a national country that operates internationally, so let’s show it with a national vote. State of Origin is about the only occasion left where we do not try and work together on an Australia-wide scale.
And by placing the Senate up for election every three years instead of six, we will get those on the backbench to work hard, to meet the needs of the country, and to put forward fresh ideas, lest someone from the Animal Justice Party take their place instead. We will not encourage a system designed to gift party faithful with a last pay-packet before their retirement with no national return.
— Lee Lin Chin (@LeeLinChinSBS) July 1, 2016
Sure, no system is without fault, and perhaps the loss of local representation is a pitfall of this proposal, but this should only encourage House representatives to take up the mantle for their local electorates to a greater role than is currently happening.
Clearly I was wrong in my assumption that the voting Australian public would make their decision do away with a vibrant upper house. However, the next challenge is to keep reforming until our democratic leanings are always reflected in the chambers of our Parliament.