You may have heard a lot of chatter lately about Senate voting reform. You probably can't stop thinking about it.
Now we know what you’re thinking, it’s all a bit boring, but it’s also kind of important.
It's so important that the Greens have teamed up with the Liberals to get it done. And all the while Labor has been driven so mad by the whole thing that one Senator called the Greens ‘cancer’. LITERAL CANCER.
So, what’s the go? Well, pour yourself a coffee like the gentleman below as we explain senate voting reform while trying to keep things ~interesting~.
First thing’s first.
The Senate is the upper house of federal parliament. It basically acts as a check on the lower house, where the government is formed. (That’s where Turnbull, Shorten, Clive Palmer etc sit)
Senators don’t represent electorates, they represent states. There are 12 Senators from each state, and two from each territory. Every three years, half of our Senators are up for re-election. This sexy professor gets it.
So in order for a Senator to be elected, they will have to get more than 14.3% of the vote. That’s called a quota.
Now, the Senate isn’t just for the major parties like the Liberals or Labor, it’s also the place where obscure "micro-parties" like The Pirate Party (real) or the Goldfish Enthusiast Party (not real) try to get elected.
In theory, The Goldfish Enthusiast Party doesn’t stand a chance at elections, because who would actually vote for those guys? But these micro-parties have figured out how to game the system. They put together ‘group voting tickets’, where they direct preferences to each other, and eventually we elect Senator Goldfish.
"What are preferences", we hear you say.
Basically, a party says “well, if we can’t win, we want those guys to win instead, so they can have our votes”. That system has now lead to some weird stuff, like Ricky Muir from the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party (definitely not pictured below), being elected a Senator after getting half of one per cent of the vote.
Is that a good thing? Well, it depends on how you like your democracy. And while Ricky Muir seems like a thoroughly decent guy, he’s also best known for flinging kangaroo shit at his mates. (but that was before he entered the Senate LOLOLOL #PoliticalSatire)
At the last election, that lead to a ragtag group of crossbench Senators like Muir, and Jacqui ‘I like a well-hung man’ Lambie. (Pictured below is Lambie’s ideal man) These guys have made the government’s job really difficult, so the government wants to change the rules to make it harder for them to get elected.
How will they do that?
So normally when you vote you can either do it above or below the line. Voting above the line involved simply putting a ‘1’ next to your preferred party - usually one of the big ones.
From there, the parties themselves decide where their preferences are directed. Almost everyone chooses this option, because duh, it’s heaps easy. But that's how you end up with Senator Goldfish.
But under the proposed new system, those group voting tickets will be banned, and you’ll be allowed to number at least six parties above the line. This gives you more of a choice as to where your first, second, third, fourth, and fifth preferences go, rather than letting the parties decide. If you can count to six, this is probably the option for you.
But if you FUCKING LOVE DEMOCRACY, you’ll still be able to vote below the line, which usually means you have to number every single box and that's a shitload of boxes. (Last election, the senate ballot paper in NSW was more than a metre long and had 110 boxes).
This is the preferred option of nerds, like the one below.
Sounds simple enough, so why are people mad?
Well, the crossbenchers are especially pissed because this reform will basically kill them off. Malcolm Turnbull is expected to call a double dissolution soon, meaning every senator will up for election, not just half of them. That means that the size of a quota will be cut in half, making it much easier for Senator Goldfish to get elected under the current rules. That’s why the Liberals and The Greens are in such a rush to get this shit done now.
Labor is against the reforms, saying it will make the Liberals and the Greens more powerful. There are also concerns that by voting on 1 to 6, a person's vote will 'exhaust' before it's allocated, meaning that vote doesn't get counted at all. Here's Henry Cavill.
Ok, what happens now?
With the support of the government, the Greens and Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, the legislation will almost certainly pass parliament this week. Once that’s done, Malcolm Turnbull will be able to call a double dissolution election without the fear of Australia accidentally electing Senator Goldfish. Poor fella. But don’t worry, he’ll barely remember even being a Senator in the first place.
Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Rob Stott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.