Comments from the Electoral Reform Society of SA, November 2013
When introducing this Bill in the Lower House, Deputy Premier Hon John Rau indicated this was only to make minor changes to the Electoral Act 1985. This includes the following:
- Only registered parties or grouped independents can lodge a preference ticket.
- Placing political parties on the left of the ballot paper, followed by grouped
independents, then other independents.
- Only two words would be permitted after the name of an independent candidate.
- The number of nominees required for an independent candidate increased from two to
The Deputy Premier also indicated that the State Government had consulted with the Liberals and other parties “who have largely been supportive.” This was shown to be correct as this Bill was shamelessly introduced and passed all within 25 minutes in the Lower House on 12 November.
This Bill deliberately discriminates in favour of the major parties.
- Changes in nomination requirements
The increase in the number of signatures required for nomination may be justified, but it will be more difficult for individuals, smaller parties or grouped independents to nominate. Particularly as at the same time, the Deputy Premier has indicated there will be an increase in the nomination fee as part of this package.
To become a registered political party it is only necessary to have a membership of 200 voters, and once registered that political party can nominate up to 11 candidates for the Upper House.
Under this Bill, if two or more individual candidates want to group together they will each need 100 different voters to sign their nomination forms. This will not apply for candidates from registered political parties.
- Voting for individual candidates
Above and below the line voting will continue and if voting below the line, voters will still have to mark all squares.
If this Bill is passed, voters will not be able to vote for individual candidates above the line making it much more difficult for those voters who want to support these individuals.
The unfairness of having to mark all squares if voting below the line will firstly force individual candidates to group together, and secondly will force voters to consider voting for such groups rather than individuals. It will be counterproductive to any attempts to reduce the significance of “preference-harvesting agreements” between such groups.
And forcing someone like Nick Xenophon to stand in a group to avoid having to rely on below-the-line votes is fairly outrageous.
- Position on the ballot paper
This Bill ensures that registered political parties will get the first positions on the ballot paper and hence will get the favoured positions before independent groups and lastly individual candidates. At the 2010 election it was the Independent Climate Sceptics who had first position – but under this Bill this will not be allowed.
- Name of group
This Bill will restrict individuals and small groups to trying to explain their main aim to essentially two words. This restriction will not apply to those parties already registered – with up to six words allowed for their names. At least with the previous five words allowed, there was some equality between the registered party names and the names of the independent groups.
Previously South Australia had a ballot paper for the Upper House that had a degree of fairness to all candidates. This Bill removes this fairness.
Comment on the Bill
While there is merit in increasing the current nomination requirements from only two nominations, this Bill goes too far in making it necessary for groups of three or more candidates to provide more nominations than for registered parties nominating three or more candidates. And why remove the option of voting above the line for those voters who want to vote for an individual candidate? Or giving the favoured positions only to registered parties? And restricting what individuals and small groups call themselves?
If members of the Upper House believe in a fair electoral system, they should vote against this Bill.
There is no doubt that the method of electing the Upper House needs to be changed, but making changes in the last sitting week before the next State Election is not the time to do this.
The Electoral Reform Society had raised issues with the voting system for the Upper House in our submission in June 2010 to the Select Committee on Matters related to the General Election of 20 March 2010. It is a pity that neither the Select Committee, the State Government or Parliament wanted to consider the Upper House at that time when there could have been a public discussion of any proposals and a considered debate in Parliament.