Malcolm Turnbull is moving to crush the chances of tiny parties wielding huge Senate power

Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Don Arnold / Getty Images

The federal government will introduce legislation today aimed at drastically reducing the chances of so-called micro-parties winning seats in the Senate through preference deals.

Senator Ricky Muir / Screenshot

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull this morning announced the proposed changes which, if passed, will mean voters will be advised to number at least six of their preferences above the line on the Senate ballot paper.

The labyrinthine preference flows at play in the 2013 election resulted in Ricky Muir of the obscure Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party being elected to the Senate, where he now wields considerable power as a cross-bench Senator having received only a few tenths of a percentage of the vote in Victoria.

Preference deals also helped Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party secure three Senate seats, although only WA’s Dio Wang now represents the PUP after the resignations of Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus.

The volatile nature of the cross bench has created significant challenges for the Coalition in securing support for much of its legislation, including billions of dollars in proposed budget savings in health and education.

“The last Senate election was widely criticised,” Turnbull said this morning when announcing the proposed changes. “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 0.5 per cent of the vote.”

The changes follow a Senate inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. The legislation will be be referred to a joint parliamentary committee that will be asked to report by Wednesday next week.

From Turnbull’s statement this morning, here are the details of the new proposals:

  • The introduction of optional preferential above the line voting, with advice to the voter on the ballot paper to vote above the line by numbering at least 6 of the boxes in the order of the voter’s choice (with the number 1 as the voter’s first choice);
  • The introduction of a related savings provision to ensure that a ballot is still formal where the voter has numbered 1 or fewer than 6 boxes above the line;
  • In relation to voting below the line, a proposal to reduce the number of informal votes by increasing the number of allowable ‘mistakes’ from 3 to 5, as long as 90% of the Ballot paper below the line is filled in correctly;
  • The abolition of group and individual voting tickets;
  • The introduction of a restriction to prevent individuals holding relevant official positions in multiple parties;
  • To reduce voter confusion between parties with similar party names, a proposal to allow political parties (at their discretion) to have their logo included on the ballot paper.

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