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Govt's electoral shake-up doomed, Attorney admits to MPs

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EXCLUSIVE | The Marshall Government has conceded defeat in its bid to significantly revamp the state’s electoral system, with the Attorney-General privately admitting her push to introduce Optional Preferential Voting has failed.

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A wide-ranging electoral reform bill is expected to go before the Upper House next week, Vickie Chapman’s office has confirmed, with her office adamant its centrepiece reform – overturning the requirement to number all boxes on House of Assembly ballot papers – is still on the table.

InDaily first asked the Attorney’s office in January whether the Optional Preferential Voting measure would still be included in the Bill, after sources suggested it had been dropped.

At the time, her office responded: “The state government is actively working with the Opposition and crossbench on all aspects of this important piece of legislation, and will continue to do so as it progresses through parliament.”

Asked the same question again this week, a spokesperson reiterated the same statement, adding they were working through “a variety of amendments”.

However, key crossbenchers have revealed to InDaily that Chapman has personally informed them the Optional Preferential Voting provision was dead in the water.

“Yes, and the Government knows that,” Advance SA MLC John Darley told InDaily today.

He said he “mentioned to Vickie Chapman” in a recent conversation that the reform did not have the numbers to pass the Upper House, “and all she said was, ‘oh well’”.

“I said to her, ‘are you withdrawing that?’, and she said, ‘No, but we know it won’t get up, because the Labor Party, SA Best and the Greens oppose it’,” he said.

Darley said he was personally prepared to back the measure but “when I found out it wasn’t going to get up, I thought ‘bugger it, there’s no point worrying about it’”.

Chapman is understood to have conveyed similar sentiments to other MPs, with Greens MLC Tammy Franks telling InDaily: “The Attorney-General told me she was not proceeding with that part of the legislation.”

A spokesperson for SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros likewise said Chapman had acknowledged in a recent briefing that the Government “doesn’t have the numbers to get those reforms through the Upper House”.

It’s expected the provision will remain in the Bill, but the relevant clause will be defeated in committee, with the Government not expected to devote significant time to defending it.

OPV would have revamped SA’s electoral process, whereby MPs are elected based on the distribution of preferences from losing candidates. Under the proposed change, numbering candidates from first to last would be optional – a move strongly opposed by Labor, which considered it a bid by the Liberals to capitalise on their traditionally-stronger primary vote.

However, a new balance of power in the lower house – with five crossbenchers wielding newfound influence in the 47-seat parliament – also presented a new stumbling block even if the Bill had progressed through the Upper House.

Darley suggested it was unlikely the crossbench MPs – all of whom have indicated they will contest next year’s election – would back OPV, given full preferential voting was “the only way they can get votes”.

The other eye-catching reform in the Bill – a bid to ban election posters, known as corflutes, from being displayed on stobie poles and public streets – remains in the balance.

Labor’s Upper House leader Kyam Maher told InDaily the Opposition hadn’t formalised its position on the move, which could effectively be waved through if the ALP opts to back it.

However, it’s understood the Government has already watered down its original legislation, with an amendment allowing the display of up to four corflutes per candidate on public property within 50 metres of an operating polling station.

SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo, however, indicated he’d oppose any corflute crackdown, saying: “Our view is we should retain them – particularly for the minor parties that don’t have that massive spend of the two majors.”

Complicating the move is the fact that a similar corflute ban is included in a separate Local Government reform Bill, which means whatever changes are made at a state level would likely have to be implemented in both Bills.

The Greens, however, appear at odds over the provision, with Franks insisting the party was “very keen to get corflutes banned”.

“We’ve consulted with our members and that’s the strong feeling,” she said, arguing the widespread use of the plastic banners was inconsistent with recent reforms banning single-use plastics.

“Why would we be putting up single-use plastic banners on Stobie poles when we’re showing leadership elsewhere?” she said.

“This [banning corflutes] might just one of the few things [former Labor A-G] Mick Atkinson and I agree on.”

Her Greens colleague Mark Parnell, however, was equivocal, saying he was “still in discussion with some people in our party on banning corflutes”.

He suggested there were “some constitutional problems” with dictating where election material could be displayed, and noted there were more environmentally-friendly alternatives on which the banners could be printed.

“They don’t have to be single-use plastic,” he said.

Moreover, he noted even under the original Bill, corflutes could still be liberally displayed on private property, including shopfronts.

“I have some sympathy for ending the arms race of thousands of corflutes everywhere [but] people need to realise there will still be thousands of corflutes – they will just be in different locations,” he said.

“They just won’t be on Stobie poles.”

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