Loophole allows Liberal Democrats to Retain their Party Name

(7:15pm – this post has been updated to clarify some points of law.)

Last year Labor and the Coalition combined to pass legislation that prevented parties from having registered names that were too similar to those of already registered parties.

It was clear the target of the legislation was the Liberal Democratic Party. Last November, after applications by the Liberal and Labor Parties, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) gave notice that the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Labour Party would be de-registered if they did not change their names.

The full 3-person Australian Electoral Commission confirmed the original de-registration notice from November on 9 February., so the Liberal Democrats were de-registered under their existing name.

On 9 March the High Court upheld the new law by which the party had been de-registered. It looked like game, set and match for the Liberal Democrats.

But no, the Liberal Democrats are free to contest the 2022 election under the name Liberal Democrats despite the law and despite the High Court.

It all comes down to a clever loophole in the law that someone in the party spotted.
Read More »Loophole allows Liberal Democrats to Retain their Party Name

Why the 2022 House and Senate Elections will be held on the same day

Last year I wrote a post on possible elections dates. In the post I wrote “There is a highly improbable option for a half-Senate election by 21 May 2022 and a separate House election as late as 3 September 2022.”

This improbable option keeps being re-cycled as a real possibility.

It isn’t.

If the government doesn’t call a May election for the House in conjunction with the required half-Senate election, it would be an admission by the government that it is too frit to face the electorate. There is no constitutional or public administration reason to hold separate elections for the House and half-Senate in 2022. Separating the elections would be because the government saw some electoral benefit.

In my view there is no benefit for the government in splitting the elections. In fact, splitting the election would be a terrible re-election strategy. Forcing the electorate to vote twice at most only 15 weeks apart would be deeply deeply unpopular and almost guarantee the government’s defeat.

No Australian Prime Minister has ever called a separate half-Senate election at a time when a House election was due. No Prime Minister has ever delayed a House election beyond its normal term by creating two elections 15 weeks apart. Prime Minister Morrison is not going to the first Prime Minister to engage in the folly of splitting the two elections in this way. He didn’t do it in 2019 and he is not going to do it in 2022.

The only people peddling this split election nonsense are people on twitter who hate the government. Splitting the elections would guarantee defeat. The government is not going to select the option that is its worst possible option for winning re-election.

So having vented my irritation that this nonsense is still being peddled, let me explain why the elections can be split.Read More »Why the 2022 House and Senate Elections will be held on the same day

Why the NT seat of Lingiari keeps being mentioned in the VoterID Debate

Opponents of the Morrison government’s VoterID bill, currently being debated by Parliament, have regularly pointed out that some groups of voters will be disadvantaged by the new law if passed.

The argument is that some groups of electors are less likely to have the forms of identification set out in the bill, meaning they will be disproportionally represented amongst those denied access to an ordinary vote.

The group most often mentioned is Indigenous voters, in particular remote Indigenous voters, and the electoral division where this will have the most impact is Lingiari, the sprawling outback Northern Territory seat.

According to the 2016 Census, 40% of the division’s residents are Indigenous. But because remote voters are not included in the national automatic enrolment program, and because of cuts in remote indigenous enrolment programs, indigenous voters make up less than 40% of enrolled electors in Lingiari.

In Lingiari, remote postal services are largely non-existent and the electorate has the nation’s lowest rate of postal voting at 2.9%. As a proportion of electors, this figure is even lower in comparison to other divisions because Lingiari consistently has the nation’s lowest turnout. The turnout in Lingiari at the 2019 election was 72.9% compared to the national figure of 91.9%.

Turnout is low because remote Indigenous voters have little access to election day polling places used by other Australians, and because pre-poll ordinary voting is generally only available in Alice Springs, Katherine, and around Greater Darwin.

Most Indigenous votes are collected by remote mobile polling teams that travel around the electorate visiting communities for as little as one hour on a single day.

One of the key campaign jobs of candidates in Lingiari is making sure communities know when a mobile team is turning up, and making sure community members are around to vote when it arrives. Many miss out.

So Lingiari is central to the debate on voter ID. Remote indigenous electors are already the category of Australians least likely to be enrolled, least likely to have the opportunity to vote, and due to this new law, may become the group least likely to be allowed to cast an ordinary vote.Read More »Why the NT seat of Lingiari keeps being mentioned in the VoterID Debate

NSW Local Government Elections Website

I’ve published a new election website for the ABC.

It’s a site covering the twice delayed NSW Local Government Elections to be held on 4 December. You can find the site it at this link.

I assure you this is not the most riveting election site I’ve published. It’s more public service than news. Given that the NSW Electoral Commission’s website is difficult to navigate, I hope my more simple display of candidates and results will prove useful for voters and political tragics. I hope to add more content on the political composition of councils over the next week and a half.

In the rest of this post I’ll summarise some statistics on the elections and point to one or two oddities produced by the elections.Read More »NSW Local Government Elections Website

Government Introduces Bill Requiring Voters to show ID to Vote

The Morrison government this morning introduced the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021. (You can find the bill and explanatory notes at this link)

The bill’s provisions will require polling day and pre-poll voters to present some form of identification when they turn up to vote. ID will be checked against details on the electoral roll before ballot papers are issued. Presentation of ID will replace voters being asked for their name and address.

There is no requirement for photo ID. There are numerous permitted documents to prove identity, including driver licences, passports, Medicare cards, proof of age cards, birth certificates, citizenship certificates, credit cards, bank statements, utilities, letters from the Electoral Commission, tax assessments and several documents specific to Indigenous voters.

Voters without ID can also be vouched for if they are voting with a voter who does have identity documents. This provision deals with couples turning up to vote when only one has brought their driver licence.

Voters unable to pass the above tests will still be allowed to vote, but they will be directed to another part of the polling place where they will be issued with ballot papers and a declaration vote envelope.Read More »Government Introduces Bill Requiring Voters to show ID to Vote

Alice Springs Mayor’s Two Vote Victory shows why Scrutineers Matter

While electoral officials will not always admit it, scrutineers play an important role in the transparency of elections.

Scrutineers are appointed by candidates as their representatives in observing the count. Scrutineers have the right to check the administrative paper work for the count, to observe all ballot papers as they are counted, to observe the checking of declaration envelopes, to challenge votes and request disputed ballot papers be tagged for adjudication. And they also play a role in spotting errors by counting staff.

If they represent one of the final candidates in the race, scrutineers perform another informal role on behalf of their candidate. Preferential voting means scrutineers want to closely observe ballot papers cast for lower polling candidates who will be excluded from the count. Scrutineers try to tally the destination preferences from these ballot papers, the flows of preferences to the final two candidates in the contest.

Since Electoral Commissions began to conduct indicative preference counts on election night, preference tallying by scrutineers has become less important. Now there are official counts that help parties know the close contests on election night. With this knowledge, the best scrutineers can be sent to the tightest counts for the post-election check count.

But what if there is no official preference count, and scrutineers don’t attend to do their two-candidate preferred estimates?

Exactly that happened in last month’s contest for Alice Springs Lord Mayor. One candidate was well ahead on first preferences. With no indicative preference count, and with no scrutineers doing their own preference counts, it wasn’t until the distribution of preferences that the leading candidate discovered he had been defeated.Read More »Alice Springs Mayor’s Two Vote Victory shows why Scrutineers Matter

More on Minimum Membership Requirements for Registering Political Parties

The Morrison government has introduced legislation that will lift the membership threshold for registering a federal political party from 500 to 1,500.

The legislation will not require parties with current parliamentary representation to meet the new requirement. All other parties will have three months after the legislation is passed to convince the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) that they meet the new membership requirement to retain registration.

There are currently 10 registered parties represented in the Commonwealth Parliament, with an eleventh about to be added with former Liberal Craig Kelly announced this week as the parliamentary leader of the United Australia Party. Kelly’s signing means the UAP no longer needs to meet membership requirement, in the same way the party was able to rely on former One Nation Senator Brian Burston for registration in 2016.

That leaves more than 40 parties needing to triple the list of names they provide to the AEC to retain registration.
Read More »More on Minimum Membership Requirements for Registering Political Parties

Is Increasing the Membership Requirement to Register Political Parties Justified?

The government’s proposed changes to party registration rules, released last week, will increase the number of members required to register a political party from 500 to 1,500. Understandably this proposal has attracted criticism, especially from the small parties that will now have to recruit more members.

I posted on Thursday about this and other proposed changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

Is this just an attack on small parties, or is it a justifiable attempt to make Senate ballot papers easier for voters to read and understand, and for the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to print and count?Read More »Is Increasing the Membership Requirement to Register Political Parties Justified?

Proposed Electoral Act changes for the 2022 Federal Election

Assistant Minister for Electoral Matters, Ben Morton, introduced four bills today to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act ahead of next year’s Federal election.

It’s important to say first that the bills do not include controversial proposals to introduce voter ID and optional preferential voting. Those were put forward by LNP Senator James McGrath in the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ (JSCEM’s) review of the 2019 election.

The bills also do not include any of JSCEM’s recent proposals to change the Electoral Act to deal with holding elections in a period when Covid is widespread or lockdowns are in place. Presumably any changes related to Covid will be introduced closer to the election.

These bills introduce a number of changes to counting procedures, party registration, non-party campaign expenditure, multiple voters and other campaigning offences. Some of the changes are more controversial than others, so the changes have been split into four bills.

The most controversial changes concern party registration, and splitting the changes avoids the problem where important changes in an omnibus amendment bill are delayed by more controversial parts of the bill.

Below is my summary of the proposed changes with links to the source documents on the bills.
Read More »Proposed Electoral Act changes for the 2022 Federal Election

Electoral Law, Savings Provisions and Senate Reform

Someone reading my article on reforming the WA Legislative Council’s electoral system reminded me of a speech I did a number of years ago on Senate electoral reform and issues to do with savings provisions.

The speech was at the launch of a UNSW Law Journal special Issue number 39(1) with various papers on electoral law.

The Journal had several papers on different areas of electoral law. I addressed each of the papers before spending much of the speech on savings provisions and in particular looking at the issue of savings provisions with the reformed Senate electoral system.

The speech was shortly before the 2016 election, after the Senate electoral reforms had passed, but before they were ruled constitutional by the High Court.

Having watched the speech back, I thought it worth sharing and it can be viewed via the YouTube link in the post.Read More »Electoral Law, Savings Provisions and Senate Reform