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Turnbull seeks to change Senate voting process


Changes to the way senators are elected will put power back into the hands of voters and end backroom preference deals, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says.

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The government is rushing legislation into parliament on Monday that will allow voters to cast preferences above the line on Senate ballot papers.

Voters now can only validly put a “1” in a box, with preferences flowing via a group voting ticket lodged by a candidate or party.

These preference flows are determined by deals done between parties and, in more recent times, so-called preference whisperers working with micro-parties.

Under the proposed system, which Turnbull wants in place for the next election, voters will be able to cast preferences up to the number of Senate vacancies being filled in their state or territory.

“What these changes will do, what they seek to do, is to ensure that Australian voters determine where their Senate votes go,”  Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.

The Greens have given their in-principle support but are waiting to see the details.

Labor senator Sam Dastyari described it as “complete rort”.

“The Senate is a better place when more diverse voices are being heard,” he said.

Turnbull said the 2013 Senate election result had been widely criticised because some senators won their seats with less than one per cent of the primary vote.

“The alternative is that a political party trades those (preference) votes away in secret without actually reflecting the true intention of the voter,” he said.

Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm said the change was undemocratic and was being done to favour the major parties.

“It will also ensure the Senate is permanently gridlocked (between the coalition, Greens and Labor),” he said.

Asked whether it could lead to angry crossbenchers effectively boycotting all government bills, Turnbull said: “I would hope that Senate crossbenchers will vote on legislation on its merits and without regard to whatever they may perceive to be their personal electoral agenda.”

Election analyst Antony Green said the Coalition would find it easier to win three seats in each state at a half-Senate election while Labor would ordinarily win two and battle with the Greens for the sixth seat.


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