Letter to Editor re Const Convention

Tom Round TomR at orgo.cad.gu.edu.au
Wed Feb 26 14:20:06 PST 1997

The Australian
Letters to the Editor
PO Box 4162
Sydney NSW 2001

Thursday 12 February, 1997.


The Federal Government proposes to use party-ticket-only
voting for the election of Constitutional Convention
delegates. This system resembles the Senate ballot, except
that preferences for individual candidates are prohibited, not
just heavily discouraged. Each voter must choose one team of
candidates as a block. Not only does this limit voters' choice
unnecessarily - it also contradicts the Government's own
professed beliefs.

Mr Howard criticised his predecessor's approach to
constitutional reform for giving power to the politicians, not
the people. But now he's proposing a voting system which gives
the candidates - not the voters - control over the "safe
seats" on each team's ticket. Ordinary voters, to whom Mr
Howard promised a greater say, will have no way to vote for
candidates they admire personally who are standing on
different tickets, or to change the team's pre-determined
order of names on the ballot.

Senator Minchin has campaigned for years in support of
voluntary voting. But now he is proposing a system whereby a
vote given to, eg, the Republican Party's ticket - by a voter
who admires Lincoln (the number #2 candidate on that ticket) -
will help to elect Nixon (the number #1 candidate), even if
the voter detests Nixon. Under the present Senate system this
can't happen, even with compulsory voting. Sorry, Senator
Minchin, but to safeguard my own freedom of choice, I'd prefer
to have compulsory voting with optional party tickets than
optional voting with compulsory party tickets.

Party-ticket voting is bad enough when used for electing a
government or a party-based legislature. It would be even
worse for electing a deliberative body like a Constitutional
Convention, whose delegates are meant to rise above partisan
positions and seek a consensus for the common good. Had
Deakin, Barton and co been elected to the 1890s Conventions as
delegates of competing party tickets, the compromises needed
to achieve Federation might never have been made.

If the Government wants to improve on the Senate system, let's
get rid of "above the line" rather than "below the line"
voting. Make preferences optional, and encourage voters to
focus on individual candidates rather than following a party's
how-to-vote ticket. No doubt many voters will let themselves
be guided by party allegiance ... but they shouldn't be
dragooned by it.

Technical Adviser, Electoral Reform - Queensland

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   bmusidla at email.dot.gov.au ('Bogey M'),
   crabb.deane at pi.sa.gov.au ('Deane Crabb'),
   dunnmj at ozemail.com.au ('Martin Dunn'),
   election-methods-list at eskimo.com ('Election methods'),
   GGoode at VTRLMEL1.TRL.OZ.AU (Goode, Geoff),
   hgnsw at zip.com.au ('John Webber'),
   j.pyke at qut.edu.au (John Pyke, QUT Law School),
   jhtaplin at cygnus.uwa.edu.au ('John Taplin'),
   lee at cs.mu.OZ.AU ('Lee Naish'),
   martinw at cse.unsw.edu.au ('Martin Willis'),
   mdt at ozemail.com.au ('Matthew Townsend')

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