In discussing the impact of the changes to Senate voting, Amanda Vanstone observes that the changes will affect three groups:
“The third group, about whom we hear little, is the Senate candidates from the major parties – Liberal, Nationals and Labor – who are not the highest on their party’s ticket. They could lose their seat to an independent because of the smaller quota required under a double dissolution. It doesn’t suit the independents who want to be seen as the victims to have any focus on the fact that these senators from the major parties face the same challenge.”
Amanda Vanstone never faced the scrutiny that will now be directed at Senate candidates
She also notes that there is a second group of senators who will fall foul of voter anger. Expect Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi to have a difficult job being elected.
The door’s that way
One of the good things that may emerge from these changes is that the Australian electorate may now start taking their preferences in the Senate more seriously. It will also be easier because they won’t need to number preferences from 1 to 100 (or how many candidates may be standing).
Given that 25% of the Australian electorate vote for minor parties, there is a distinct possibility that there will be an increasing number of independent senators elected, particularly if the minor parties are able to arrange transparent preference swaps with candidates who have similar political persuasions. If this were to happen, we can expect a similar number of independent centres to be elected. The difference will be that this time they’re likely to reflect the will of the people rather than some arcane set of preference swaps.
The next election, be it a normal one or a double dissolution, may see a significant change in the Australian political landscape as the major parties lose control of a delicately balanced Senate. Jacqui Lambie has shown that, wants in the Senate, a politically savvy Senator can attract significant media attention that enhances their chances of re-election. There is a very good chance that it will be extremely difficult to dislodge Lambie, even without the powerful financial support of Clive Palmer.
There is a distinct possibility that the traditional patterns of election for Senate candidates of the major parties will be drastically changed. People who vote below the line will be able to pick and choose which senators they elect, even if they continue to vote for of the major parties.
This means that people like Labor Senator Joe Bullock, who was given the No 1 position on the Western Australian ticket for the ALP. Bullock, a long-term union official and opponent of same-six marriage, was elected after series of back room deals within the Labor Party.
The situation now is that being first on the ballot paper may not necessarily ensure your election. And no bad thing.