Senate election reforms announced, including preferential voting above the line

Legislation to overhaul the way Australians vote for senators will be introduced into Parliament House today.

Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull announced the changes, which are designed to make it harder for crossbenchers to get elected if they have a tiny proportion of the vote.

Mr Turnbull said the legislation included the option of preferential voting above the line, meaning that voters could number up to six boxes and have their vote counted as formal.

The legislation will also propose:

  • Reducing the number of informal votes when voting below the line by increasing the number of allowable "mistakes" from three to five
  • The abolition of group and individual voting tickets
  • Allowing political parties (at their discretion) to have their logo included on the ballot paper

Mr Turnbull said the current system had been taken advantage of.

"The last Senate election was widely criticised," he said.

"Australians were astonished to see people elected to the Senate whose primary votes were a fraction, in the case of one senator from Victoria, about half of 1 per cent of the vote."

The announcement follows a Senate report on the issue, which also proposed that the party membership requirement be increased to 1,500 from its current level of 500.

That proposal was dumped following negotiations with the Greens, who opposed the increase.

Greens likely to benefit

The announcement has been welcomed by the Greens, who are likely to benefit from the extermination of smaller contenders for the balance of power in the Senate.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said his party had been putting forward legislation for similar reform for more than a decade.

"The only people who support the current system are the faceless men and factional operators who can wield power and influence in back rooms," he said.

"We will be looking very closely at this bill through the inquiry process to ensure it achieves the goal of putting power back in the hands of voters."

He called on the Opposition to support the legislation, though Senator Sam Dastyari this morning called for care when "racing through" reform.

Citing internal Labor analysis, Senator Dastyari said the changes would lead to a significant boost in informal voting.

There is some information currently that shows that it would increase the informal vote by 800,000 people," he said.

"We're talking about first generation migrants, people who are already disenfranchised... This is a policy that will harm and hurt the most vulnerable people in our society."

ABC election analyst Anthony Green said the legislation, if passed, meant the smaller parties would not be able to direct preferences to each other.

"They will not be able to do the preference harvesting they have done in the past," he said.

"They might all stand again [but] the more candidates that stand, the less chance the little parties have of being elected."

Minor parties spoke out last week about the proposals, with some threatening to target marginal seats in retaliation if passed.

Political consultant Glenn Druery confirmed that he was helping coordinate discussions and said a preliminary hit list of 17 marginal seats has been compiled, including that of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

He said the Coalition could lose up to six seats.

Source: ABC News

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