InDaily InDaily

Support independent Journalism Donate Subscribe
Support independent journalism


Off the Bench: Top-up members undemocratic


14 Comments Print article

In our new opinion series, Off the Bench, two of South Australia’s brightest backbench MPs – one Labor, one Liberal – trade arguments on key issues.

Yesterday, Liberal Stephan Knoll made his case for reforming South Australia’s electoral laws – today, Labor’s Chris Picton responds.

Roads, parks, taxes, schools and jobs. They’re the issues most raised with me in the community. Unsurprisingly the Electoral Act is not at the top of the list. But having a strong democracy is the precursor for every other issue.

Step by step our South Australian democracy has improved over the past 160 years. We led the way on women’s suffrage and the secret ballot. We eventually caught up to ensuring that every vote has the same value and that our political donation laws are transparent.

There’s still more to do – however adopting thought-bubbles might actually make things worse.

Our current system passes the fairness test. Today all South Australians have an equal vote in both houses of parliament. That’s a contrast to the 1960s when country votes were worth up to ten times more than city votes and only people who could afford property were able to vote for Legislative Councillors.

Before their shocking defeat at the Fisher by-election, the Liberals complained the electoral system was unfair. Stephan Knoll in InDaily yesterday continued this claim. It is worth noting they weren’t saying this when John Howard won the 1998 election with 49 per cent of the two-party vote.

This paragraph sums up what happened last year:

A Labor Government went to the election and a hung parliament was the result. Neither party won a majority of seats. Independents held the balance of power. Labor continued in government with the support of independents.

In a case of déjà vu that same paragraph applies equally to the 2014 and 1989 elections.

Following the Liberal Party’s complaints in 1989, SA adopted their preferred system – the “fairness clause” – in our constitution. It is unique in that it uses political votes to devise electorate boundaries. We are still the only place to have it and it benefits the Liberal Party who traditionally have a strong vote in the bush.

As has been said by experts before, the clause was applied properly by the Electoral Commission – it is just that in 2014 two usually Liberal areas elected independents.

Two days after the last election I saw analyst Antony Green interviewed on ABC News 24. Given the surprise election outcome he was asked, “Why can’t they just draw the SA boundaries like they do in other states?” (is not use the fairness clause.)

Green’s apt response was: “That would just make it worse for the Liberal Party”.

No shock therefore that the Liberals don’t want to do that! They’d rather scrap the system they invented and invent something new again.

Stephan proposes a “top-up system” where major parties would bring in a list of party-picked new MPs to help ensure they had a majority.

“Surprise! We know you didn’t vote for these people – but here they are voting in your Parliament, being paid by your tax dollars.”

It is a departure from the Westminster system and in my view dangerous. It should make a true conservative weak at the knees.

Our constitution is designed to last for centuries. Changes should be difficult to pick apart. Unfortunately this is more ragged than Bronwyn Bishop’s travel agent.

Here are a few reasons why:

Let’s have reforms. But let’s not have short-sighted reforms to suit one political party.

On our side we have sought to start a bipartisan parliamentary committee to review elections and recommend reforms. The Liberals have blocked this in the upper house.

Speaking of the upper house – why not look there for electoral reform?

School children who tour Parliament House are staggered when they learn Legislative Councillors can get eight years on the ‘red leather’ with just a few per cent of the vote. Plus the preference system is so complicated that it’s easy for your vote to help elect someone with views you personally detest.

There’s also more we can do to make sure everyone gets a chance to vote. Too many young or marginalised people aren’t registered to vote at all, denying them a voice on decisions that affect their lives.

I welcome Stephan’s enthusiasm for reform but question his advocacy for just one untested model.

I hate sounding like a conservative but we need a system that will last for decades, and that can only happen if we work in a bipartisan way together.

Chris Picton is the Member for Kaurna. Stephan Knoll is the member for Schubert.

In the next instalment of Off the Bench, Picton will lead off on an issue of his choice, with Knoll responding.

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Help our journalists uncover the facts

In times like these InDaily provides valuable, local independent journalism in South Australia. As a news organisation it offers an alternative to The Advertiser, a different voice and a closer look at what is happening in our city and state for free. Any contribution to help fund our work is appreciated. Please click below to donate to InDaily.

Donate here
Powered by PressPatron


14 Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

More Opinion stories

Loading next article