THE unexpected election of several senators from fringe and special interest parties at Saturday’s election has provoked calls from the political establishment to reform the electoral system to eliminate complicated preference deals.
Long-serving Nationals senator Ron Boswell has called the system of election to the senate a “miscarriage of democracy” after a preference deal between minor parties allowed candidates that had only received a small percentage of the vote to be elected to parliament. While results in the senate have not yet been finalised, it is expected that six minor party candidates will take a position in the federal upper house in July next year.
Mr Boswell said: “There is something terribly wrong with the system which allows people 2000 votes, or even 1900 votes, taking a place in parliament. People think it is a complete miscarriage of democracy and it is.”
This year’s federal election saw several candidates be elected to the senate with as little as 0.2 per cent of the total vote, sparking criticism that these fringe party members would not effectively represent the interests of their state. A candidate for the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, Ricky Muir, is expected to be elected to federal parliament with only 12 000 votes after preference deals favoured him in Victoria.
Mr Muir, an unemployed father of five, rose to national prominence over the weekend after it became clear that he would be a shock winner in the 2013 election. He ran for government on a platform of providing more freedom for lovers of motorsport, and has said that he will only reveal his views on significant national issues after his election is confirmed.
Politicians have also criticised the decision of the Australian Electoral Commission to allow the registration of a party called the Liberal Democrats, which attracted a higher percentage of the senate vote in New South Wales than more prominent parties like the Australian Greens and the Palmer United Party. Election analysts suggest that the far-right party benefitted due to the similarities between its name and the Liberal Party of Australia.
Newly-elected Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that he would treat minor party senators with the same respect as he would treat any colleague, however agreed to hold a parliamentary inquiry into senate voting rules after taking office.
Mr Abbott said: “Elections do sometimes throw up quirky and interesting characters. That’s not always a bad thing. Let’s wait and see what the final result is, then let’s wait and see what the joint standing committee comes up with.”
Independent senator Nick Xenophon agreed that the electoral system in the upper house needed more transparency. He said that parliament needed to determine how voters felt about candidates being elected with such a small number of votes, which would then determine what reforms should take place.
Mr Xenophon said: “Right now there is an enormous amount of power given to backroom operators whether from the major, the minor or the micro parties, where voters really don’t know what’s going on.”