Motion: Group Voting Tickets

9 Feb 2023

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This motion called for the Victorian Government to establish an inquiry into the undemocratic group voting system that still exists in Victoria.


That this house:

(1) acknowledges that Victoria continues to be the only jurisdiction in Australia that uses the undemocratic group voting system to elect members to this place;

(2) notes that after the 2021 Western Australian state election, where a representative from the Daylight Saving Party was elected with 98 primary votes, the re-elected Western Australian government initiated an independent review of the state’s electoral system which recommended abolishing the group voting system;

and calls on the government to show similar leadership and urgently establish an independent expert panel to review Victoria’s undemocratic group voting system and make recommendations to Parliament on options for reform.

When Victorians went to the polls in November last year they not only were faced with a ridiculous double-decker ballot paper but were the only voters left in the nation that had their upper house preferences decided for them, not by them – hopefully for the last time.

The undemocratic group voting ticket (GVT) system, which sees party apparatchiks determine preference flows for over 90 per cent of votes which are made above the line, has been abandoned in all Australian jurisdictions except here, and for good reason. I will not labour the point because it is self-evident to anyone who believes in representative democracy how appalling group voting tickets are, but as a quick summary here is Antony Green:

GVT elections attract so many parties because the preference deals turn the contest to fill the final seat into a lottery. Micro-parties agree to ignore their ideological differences and swap preferences with each other ahead of the larger parties in a tactic that has become known as ‘preference harvesting’. The tactic gives one of the participating micro-parties a chance to get lucky and be elected to the Legislative Council for four years with a key vote in the balance of power.

The reformed Senate system has ended such tactics and results. Senators no longer get elected by clever deals and pot luck. Parties have to campaign for votes rather than trade deals on preferences. The three Senate elections conducted with the new rules have elected representatives proportional to votes received without the distortions created by GVTs.

In essence, GVTs distort the will of voters; for example, people voting for the Shooters can end up electing an animal rights activist. They lead to a multitude of parties whose function is to harvest preferences rather than engage in genuine political debate, hence the ridiculousness of the double-decker ballot paper we saw. But most significantly group voting tickets facilitate the election of members who are not accountable to voters. As Kevin Bonham says, whether a party with a small vote gets elected ‘has more to do with GTV preference deals and unpredictable events in the preference distribution than whether they have any real level of voter support’.

In the most recent election we have seen a more proportional upper house than last time thanks in large part to progressive parties making different decisions than in 2018, but this just proves our point. It should not be the apparatchiks deciding from election to election who comes into the place but the voters. Now of course – and in anticipation of the accusations I know will be coming my way in this debate – the Greens engage with the system as it exists, which means we reach agreements with other parties to maximise our chances of getting elected. But that does not mean the system is right. It is not, and everyone here knows it. In the lead-up to the election it was heartening to hear numerous parties voice their support for reform. In fact the majority of the crossbench here are now on the record supporting reforming the upper house voting system, as I think are the Liberals. I am sure they will correct me if I am wrong on that in the debate to come.

In fact the only parties in this place that have not indicated support for reform of group voting tickets are those members beholden to Mr Druery for their election and the Labor Party. And didn’t we all get a closer look at the way Mr Druery operates during last year’s election? The ugliness of group voting tickets was on display for everyone to see – the wheeling, the dealing, the threats, the boasting and of course the money. What was most interesting in the leaked recordings of Mr Druery was the revelation that part of the deal in getting his help is to promise to oppose any reform of the system, and we may just see that on display again shortly – the corruption of the group voting system on display right there. This chamber saw this promise in action in 2021 in the debate on my last motion calling for reform of the group voting system when dutifully Mr Druery’s MPs got to their feet one by one to defend the corrupt and undemocratic use of group voting tickets. During the course of that debate I had the experience of being lectured to by white men about how group voting tickets bring diversity to the chamber – seriously! Yet, as has been reported, the current Parliament is even less diverse than the last one. The problem politics faces with diversity has not got anything to do with group voting tickets, or maybe it does – in reserving places for white conservative blokes, that great under-represented group in Australian politics.

What my motion is calling for today is an independent expert panel to review Victoria’s undemocratic group voting system and make recommendations to Parliament on options for reform. After the appalling failure of the Electoral Matters Committee to conduct an inquiry into group voting tickets last term, it is clear an independent review is the best way forward.

The Western Australian Labor government did just that after their last election, and the result was the abolition of group voting tickets, which had become indefensible after an MP got elected on just 98 votes.

Reliance on the Electoral Matters Committee risks the same outcome as the last term, where a majority of Labor and Druery MPs blocked any movement on reform. The inaction of the government and the Electoral Matters Committee last term was a travesty of democracy. Almost every single submission to the committee on the 2018 election mentioned group voting tickets, yet the committee refused to allow witnesses to address the issue, instead making what turned out to be a hollow promise of a future inquiry. This was a betrayal of the people who made submissions to the committee. It treated voters with contempt, and given Labor continues to show no concern about the ongoing corrupting influence of group voting tickets, forgive me if I am not prepared to give the government-dominated committee system the benefit of the doubt again.

While the Greens believe the simplest and most appropriate reform is to replace the GVT system with Senate-style voting above the line, which as I mentioned before provides a much more proportional outcome, we are open to alternatives, hence why this motion calls for an expert panel to give the Parliament options to consider. We have heard the Premier deflect the need for a proper review of this broken system to the Electoral Matters Committee’s regular review of the election as a way of heading off criticism for years of inaction, but we all know that with the government-dominated joint investigatory committees, with government chairs, as I spoke at length about this morning, we just do not see the type of scrutiny and reform that is needed, especially when it comes to the health of our democracy and the group voting system. So the Greens are proposing a pathway forward that can help us achieve progress. It means that a proper review and inquiry can be conducted into Victoria’s group voting system and then the Parliament can deliberate on the best options for reform.

This motion should come as no surprise to the government, as I wrote to the Premier as soon as possible after November’s election to indicate that this issue would be a high priority for the Greens and request he establish an independent expert panel to review the electoral system for Victoria’s upper house. I am yet to receive any acknowledgement or reply to this correspondence, but together in this chamber today, with this motion, we can move this issue forward. We owe every Victorian at least that.

At the end of the day every Victorian should be able to easily decide where their voting preferences go on election day, rather than having their preferences bought and sold by people they have never heard of. Until we reform our voting system our elections will continue to be open to corruption and our upper house risks not representing the people it should serve.

This motion was delivered on February 8th, 2023.

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