Wednesday, 22 February 2023


Electoral reform



Electoral reform

Debate resumed on motion of Samantha Ratnam:

That this house:

(1) acknowledges that Victoria continues to be the only jurisdiction in Australia that uses the undemocratic group voting system to elect members to this place;

(2) notes that after the 2021 Western Australian state election, where a representative from the Daylight Saving Party was elected with 98 primary votes, the re-elected Western Australian government initiated an independent review of the state’s electoral system which recommended abolishing the group voting system;

and calls on the government to show similar leadership and urgently establish an independent expert panel to review Victoria’s undemocratic group voting system and make recommendations to Parliament on options for reform.

Ryan BATCHELOR (Southern Metropolitan) (14:47): I am pleased to rise to speak further in relation to Ms Ratnam’s motion on the group voting system, which is obviously a matter and a topic which is dear to the hearts of everyone in this chamber because we are all products of the electoral system that brought us here. I have got a slightly different contribution that I want to make today, and I will get to that in just a minute.

While I am not going to stand here and give a resounding endorsement of all the elements of our current voting and electoral system, I do take a little bit of umbrage at the notion that it is undemocratic. It is not a word that I would use to describe the methods of election to this chamber. I think the critique that the motion moved by Ms Ratnam is seeking to get to is that the current arrangements are producing disproportionate results or that the sorts of proportionality that are coming out of those arrangements are tending towards disproportionality. Of course the factors that go into those elements of producing results relate to electoral formulas, electoral models and balanced structures, and all of those need to be considered.

The more substantive thing I wanted to touch on today really is that it is essentially affording me the opportunity to talk a little bit about something that I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on in another context. It surprises me, but it was 20 years ago when I wrote my honours dissertation on the 2003 reforms to this chamber. I will spare colleagues a complete recitation of the 63 pages that I have got in front of me. However, I cannot but use this opportunity to talk about some of those issues here today, because what that –

Nicholas McGowan: Please table it.

Ryan BATCHELOR: We might be able to share a bit of it later, but I do want to just preface it by saying it was written in the context obviously of the last time there was significant constitutional reform undertaken in the state of Victoria.

The Constitutional Commission that was established by the Bracks government in 2002 produced a series of reforms which changed, I think fundamentally, the shape of this chamber, so I did just want to spend a little bit of time talking about some of the things that I have learned from that process. I want to start by saying I was very grateful as an honours student to have, in the preparation of that dissertation and the consideration of the electoral arrangements that were being proposed for this place, two very significant and serious interviews with I think two of the people who have played a very significant role in understanding this chamber’s role in parliamentary democracy in Victoria. Those were the late Alan Hunt, who served as a long-term member of this Council and was a former president of this Council, and the late John Cain, a former Premier of Victoria – two, I think, of some of the most thoughtful contributors to the question of parliamentary democracy that we have seen probably in the preceding generation.

What the history of this chamber and the history of this Parliament tell us is that this chamber has been on a long journey from a place where it was definitely undemocratic to a place today where I think that we can definitely say that it is providing a forum for a range of voices that is much more representative and reflective of the people of Victoria then we have definitely seen over the course of our 150-year history. We obviously came from a time when this chamber was a bastion designed to protect the interests of the propertied class, and that was a very deliberate design feature of this chamber when it was set up in the pre-Federation colonial days. It was given its character to essentially stop people who were coming here because of the gold rush getting a foot in the door via the property franchise that was created. That it was elected and not appointed was a piece of perhaps strategic foresight to prevent what happened in Queensland, where an appointed chamber voted itself out of existence.

But in the 80 years that we have had reform to this chamber there has been a series of constitutional reforms we have had to this chamber. In the last 80 years they have all been driven by Labor and Labor governments. It started, fundamentally, back in the 1950s with the transformation of this chamber from a propertied franchise to a more universal – not completely, but more universal – franchise because of the requirements that the Labor Party put on the then Country Party government to form government in the other chamber. That was the first of the ways that Labor has been a driving force for the democratisation of this place.

Sadly it did not continue. Noted academic Brian Costar, who was at Monash University for many years and I think more recently at Swinburne, said the three decades of Liberal domination of this chamber prior to 1982 were a period he described as a ‘constitutional ice age’ and that it was only because of the election of the Cain government in 1982 and then its quest to try and get a majority in this chamber for the first time that subsequent constitutional reform was attempted. The Labor Party did not have a majority at that time, and its reform efforts in 1987, 1988, 1990 and 2000 were all defeated by conservative majorities in this place. Really it was only the election of the Bracks government in 1999 and the results in 2002 which led to the constitutional convention which brought about the really significant and momentous changes that we saw about 20 years ago towards proportional representation, towards a system whereby more people, wider ranges of voices, were brought into this chamber.

One of the, to be honest, really nerdy things that I did in the back of my thesis – which I did nerd out a bit about yesterday and try and update – is an index of disproportionality of electoral outcomes developed by Michael Gallagher, who was a professor of comparative politics at Trinity College London. He developed a mathematical formula to measure the over-representation or under-representation of parties in chambers and developed an index of disproportionality, so the higher the index the more disproportional the electoral outcomes are. What is interesting – interesting to me – is that that index was ranging in the 25 to 30 range in the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s, and it dropped as low as 3.8 in 1985, when that second election of the Cain government occurred, before racing back up again to 21, 23 in 1996 and, even under the old systems, 13.5 in 1999. So we see that higher index, more disproportionality and less proportionality, of the relationship between vote share and seat share in the composition of the chamber.

Since those reforms were put in place in 2003 and in the 2006 and subsequent elections, that index of disproportionality has come right down. In 2006 it was just over 7, in 2010 it was around 10, in 2014 it was just under 6, in 2018 it was 6 and in the last election it was about 8.5. What I think that is demonstrating is that the problems that this Parliament and this chamber in particular have had with disproportional electoral outcomes over their history have been significantly addressed by the reforms that our Labor governments have put into place. What we do see is that this chamber is more representative of the community that it seeks to represent than it has been over the course of its history. I do not think it is right to describe it as undemocratic in that sense.

I think we as parliamentarians – and as one-time not particularly good scholars – have an interest in making sure that we continue that conversation about making sure that this Parliament and all parliaments are able to best reflect the will of the people who we seek to represent and in doing so ensure that they play an important role as key parts of our democratic institutions in Victoria, because I do think it is a matter that we must all take very seriously. It is something that I take very seriously. I know it is something that the government takes very seriously, and I am very proud to be part of a government that has introduced a series of reforms in its time here to make sure that our entire electoral process is more transparent, open and accountable. I look forward to listening to further contributions to the debate.

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan) (14:57): Thank you first of all to Mr Batchelor for his very thoughtful contribution on the history behind this item. We are supportive of the resolution. The introduction of an expert panel to consider the issues of group voting tickets is appropriate. We were involved in discussions in the media prior to the election, and at that point in time we did give a public undertaking to support such a review. There are obviously significant issues associated with group voting tickets that strike both to the nature of our democracy, good and bad, and also to the integrity of our system. I think we all witnessed some moments in the media during the election campaign where the rather crude commerciality of some consultants in the electoral business was exposed, and quite clearly that has a danger associated with it of undermining public confidence in this place and our democratic process. On that basis we would be supportive of the review and look forward to hearing more in this debate.

Evan MULHOLLAND (Northern Metropolitan) (14:59): I think that group voting tickets are an absolute affront to democracy. It is gaming the system, and people are not getting who they voted for. It is a lottery where no-one is the winner except for the candidate that snuck in through the back door on the back of a small number of votes.

I come to this debate with a keen interest in this policy, and I come to this debate with some policy background on this issue. In a past life I was an adviser in the Australian Senate and spent quite a while trying to steer through the Australian Senate voting reforms. In fact if you look at the parliamentary videos on that Senate sleepover – I think it was a 48-hour sitting – you will see me there in the advisers box at 3 am attempting to steer it through. We worked with crossbenchers. We worked with the Australian Greens at the time, who were quite supportive. But there was one party who obstructed this. Can anyone guess who? It was the Australian Labor Party who fought tooth and nail. They kept the Australian Senate sitting overnight; they kept the Australian Senate sitting for a very, very long time. I went without sleep for a very long time as well. There were members of the Australian Labor Party wanting to continue the system of rorting the Australian people, rorting their vote to try to game the system for a crossbench more amenable to them – for a more amenable Senate – and they are doing exactly the same thing in Victoria.

Who can forget that in this state in particular we had a party like the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party getting in on a very, very tiny percentage of the vote – I think it was less than 1 per cent. We know from scrutineers at this past election that voters are simply ticking boxes across-ways above the line, because they believe it is the same system they had in the federal Senate in the Australian election – the Commonwealth election – that was only earlier that year. So this is creating a lot of confusion, particularly for my constituents. We are the last state – the very last state – that has this ridiculous system.

We saw in 2014, in 2018 and even in 2022 parties getting up with a very small amount of the vote. This happened at the last WA election – I admit, not a good election for the Liberal Party. The Labor government there had the good sense to immediately reform the system – not motions in the upper house; they carried it through the lower house, got the department and experts in straightaway, because they elected a party called the Fluoride Free WA Party, which had barely any votes. I think it was less than 0.5 per cent of the vote –

David Davis interjected.

Evan MULHOLLAND: They did stand for something, unlike those opposite, but managed to game the system in order to get themselves elected.

Some people in this place have curiously said they deserve to be here, and I am here to tell you they really do not. We had the Animal Justice Party get up in Northern Victoria; they gained only 1.53 per cent of first preference votes in Northern Victoria. There are many other candidates and parties who should be rightly aggrieved to see someone get in with way less votes than they did. I will point out my friends in the Legalise Cannabis Party. They should be rightly aggrieved they do not have a seat in Northern Victoria, because they got way more of a percentage of the vote, 4.67 per cent of the vote in Northern Victoria. They should be affronted that someone is sitting here who does not deserve to be in this place.

I note the Greens should be even more affronted that they do not have a seat in Northern Victoria. Now, I will note the Greens got 6.66 per cent of the vote – I will not make a joke about that number – but that is the percentage that they got in Northern Victoria. The Shooters and Fishers got 5.03 per cent of the vote in Northern Victoria, so they should be affronted as well. We had several other parties that got more votes than the Animal Justice Party. We had the Liberal Democrats, 1.94 per cent; Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, 1.92 per cent; and Family First, 1.61 per cent, all of whom deserve to be in that position more.

Now, it is not just me that is saying they do not deserve to be here; it is respected, reputable psephologist Dr Kevin Bonham who believes it is undeserved – people are getting up in this place that do not deserve to be here. He has also said it is bad for accountability, because whether or not minor party representatives are re-elected has more to do with the group voting ticket preference deals and unpredictable events in the preference redistribution than whether or not they have any real level of voter support.

Antony Green, the quite respected ABC election analyst, has said that:

… the ballot paper’s preferences are replaced by party preference tickets. The overwhelming majority of voters would have no knowledge of these preference tickets.

And he has said:

I’m loath to use the word ‘stolen’ –

I would –

but that’s what will happen to many ballot papers in November’s Legislative Council election when it comes to counting preferences –

which actually happened.

I believe we should move to a system like we have federally, where people can set preferences above the line and also include a floor of support before you can proceed to gather preferences. We saw before the election what was absolutely outrageous. Glenn Druery, in a leaked video, admitted he made a deal with the Labor Party for ‘an amenable crossbench’. Is it any wonder the Premier has been sitting on his hands since 2014?

Andrews, before the election, said a future review could look into this and look into a new system. Well, it should not really be referred to a future review; it should be referred to IBAC. Really, this is what is going on: you have a preference whisperer, who no-one elected, making deals with the government for an amenable crossbench and saying to everyone who is part of his ‘family’ – to quote what he said – that they need to create an amenable crossbench for the government, that they need to vote with the government. ‘You can’t just oppose the government all the time,’ he said. And he calls them a family. This sounds like some sort of mob dealing. This sounds like something out of The Godfather, but that is what is going on with our democracy. That is what is going on with the Victorian electoral system that our Premier does not want to do anything about. We have seen election after election after election people getting elected that do not deserve to be here.

I am at least grateful that in the Northern Metropolitan Region preference trickery was avoided. Even under the federal system, the same five people would have been elected, including Mr Somyurek, despite some media briefing that perhaps some other parties should have been elected. Perhaps the former Reason Party – even the Victorian Socialists did better than them, so even they had more of a right to be here. But if you analyse what the federal system looks like, the results would be exactly the same, so I am at least glad that in my region that sort of preference trickery was avoided. I want to also point out that the Liberal Party had quite a good result in that region. We are back to over a full quota and even got slightly more votes than the Greens. So I was very happy with that result in the Northern Metropolitan Region because it actually reflected the will of the voter. I want a system that reflects the will of the voter. I am not going to push for what is best for my party, because we need to push for what is best for the voter and what the voter actually wants. If this system that we come up with is a system that might be detrimental to the Liberal Party, I do not care. I want a system that is beneficial for the Victorian voter so they know where their vote is going and this place truly represents the people.

Jeff BOURMAN (Eastern Victoria) (15:09): This is going to be very short and sweet. Another election, another thing from the Greens about the group voting ticket. I am not even going to bother with them, but there is some rank hypocrisy going around here. We have had a whole lot of stuff saying people do not deserve to be here – that the people should decide who is going to be here and all that sort of stuff. Well, I have been here three terms now. Does that mean I do not deserve to be here because I use Mr Druery? It is public knowledge. If I was a brain surgeon, would I operate on myself? No. So I get someone who is better at it. Nothing illegal was done. It has all been referred to IBAC. It is rank hypocrisy.

No doubt we are going to hear from a couple of other people, but the federal system was changed to get rid of Ricky Muir – let us be honest. For whatever it was worth, he did get in on not much, but it cut out all the minor parties, basically – except, I think, One Nation.

Let us get back to me. My party was brought up in an inaugural speech – 2.93 per cent in my case; Mr McGowan himself got 0.32 per cent and Ms Bath 0.52 per cent. So there are a whole lot of us here due to the system.

Nicholas McGowan: Hear, hear. Let’s review it.

Jeff BOURMAN: I will take up that interjection. If you are happy to put your own butt on the line, I am happy for that, but let us just keep the hypocrisy down to a dull roar. The representation we have had from the crossbench over the years has been wide and varied. We have got the cannabis people here, we have got Greens – whether I like them or not is another thing. We have had the DLP a couple of times, we have had other minor parties. Yes, they got in on not much, but the experience they brought to this place is what makes this place unique. It is not just them, them and the Greens. There is a need to have different people. Now, my party, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, may or may not survive a change in the electoral system, but right now we bring the voice of the common people, and that is what we need.

David DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan) (15:11): I am going to make a small number of comments about this motion. I think it is an important motion and we support it. Others in the chamber will remember similar motions in the last Parliament and they will have been able to very easily intuit my views through my very carefully modulated comments that made it clear I did not like the group voting tickets. I have always thought they are a corrupt mechanism. They do not provide the transparency that is needed. They do not provide the honesty that is needed. It is true that a range of people have been elected through that system that ought not to have been elected and would not have been elected if there was a fair system in place. So I for one think it is time.

I should note that the then government prior to 2014 went to the Labor Party and others and actually sought to look at options to reform the group voting ticket at the time, but Labor would have no part of that, and it is important to have that on the record. I was deeply informed about what was going on at that time and it was my view that we should have pressed forward with that in any event, but nonetheless, we did not because we did not have that broader support in the Parliament.

Notwithstanding all that, I do think there are a number of points to be made here. It is true that in the last Parliament there was a group of Labor-voting independents over on the other side. Three of them have gone and one remains. In a sense Samantha Ratnam as a Green is part of a major party and in a very different position, but the other three have all gone and their voting record, I think, was a very big part of that. They could not, even with the help of the group voting tickets, fool the people on that occasion, and I think those three lost specifically because of their voting efforts and decisions in the last Parliament.

On this I do think the way forward is a model similar to the federal one. I think it was thought through carefully and I think in general it is a model that is a much more sensible, balanced and even-handed model. There are all manner of problems with our voting system here, but I was interested to hear Mr Batchelor come forward with a history of this chamber and of reform of this chamber.

Nicholas McGowan interjected.

David DAVIS: No, I think it is a very interesting history. It has changed, and we should celebrate the change over time and so forth. But what I was struck by was the notable omission. Mr Batchelor’s father Peter Batchelor was actually a person who needed to be mentioned in that long record. For those of us who have been around politics for quite a while, in 1985 at the Nunawading by-election – just to educate the chamber on what actually happened – there was a tied vote, and the returning officer drew the name out of a hat and declared Bob Ives the winner. That was challenged in the Court of Disputed Returns. In any election it is not hard to find one vote, but there were 44 where there were issues and so forth. So it was clear that the result was unknown.

Nicholas McGowan: Ro Varty.

David DAVIS: That is right, Rosemary Varty. There was a by-election called, and Mr Batchelor’s father was directly involved in falsification of how-to-vote cards. The Nunawading by-election how-to-vote cards for the Nuclear Disarmament Party were printed by Labor, distributed by Labor – and corruptly distributed. Mr Batchelor’s father should have been in jail over that. In fact it was actually a shocking miscarriage that our electoral system could be rorted so openly and indeed that not be dealt with. If he wants to do a review of the electoral history of this chamber, that chamber for six weeks did not have a member for Nunawading. The by-election occurred, and a Liberal was elected on about 50,000, as opposed to 42,000, if my memory is roughly correct.

Enver Erdogan: On a point of order, Acting President, if Mr Davis wants to make allegations against people, he knows he should do it by way of substantive motion and not defame people using privilege in this way.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Bev McArthur): There is no point of order.

David DAVIS: Mr Batchelor Sr is not in this chamber. He is not even in the Parliament now. He later became a minister, but actually nothing will remove the stain of what he did in 1985 – the corrupt intervention in the Nunawading by-election, distributing how-to-vote cards that were falsified. He should have gone under the old Crimes Act 1958 with the fraud provisions and all of that. But leaving that aside, I just thought it was very important. If we are going to get a trip down memory lane on the history of the chamber, that is a very important piece of history that is relevant and that was omitted for whatever purpose.

But I do want to say on these points proposed by Dr Ratnam, there are ways forward. We are the only chamber that has not been reformed in this way. It is needed. We have a voting outcome which has been influenced by Mr Druery. We know that. He has taken money, and people do not deny this. It is just a matter of public record that Mr Druery takes money to arrange preferences. I think that is a problem in and of itself, and I think it ought not to have occurred and ought not to occur in the future. I do not think we should have our electoral system arranged in that way, and the wheel – and it is important I think that the community understand what we are talking about when we talk about the wheel – is there. They all preference each other. The left preferences the right and the right preferences the left and so forth in this wheel to spit out an unknown – it is like a fair where you spin the wheel and you do not know who is going to win the lottery, win the padded bear, on that day.

Members interjecting.

David DAVIS: I am just saying that this preference machine is a device that is unsatisfactory, and anyone who thinks carefully – many in your party – thinks the same. I do not think it is a fair representation, I do not think the people are getting a fair outcome here and I think the time for reform has more than arrived. It should have been done in 2014, and it will need to be done now.

Adem SOMYUREK (Northern Metropolitan) (15:19): We have a tradition in this country of doing electoral matters, electoral reform, based on consensus and principle. It is very important. Principle is very important. Electoral matters go to the heart of our democracy. If we get that wrong, we are in all sorts of trouble. I sense a bit of political expediency in this motion here from the Greens, and that is no good. Every four years, no matter how nasty the election is, the leader of the party that lost gets up on election eve and concedes. They never make any excuses. It does not matter what they think. They never make excuses, because they know our democracy, our electoral system, is based on consensus and is based on principle. We should not be doing electoral matters, electoral reform, based on expediency, and that is what I sense here with the Greens.

I understand today that the Libs are opposing this, but I can see their position is not based on expediency. I am going to run through the figures, and you will see why theirs is not based on expediency. What is the problem that we are trying to solve? When you are reforming, you are trying to reform to fix a problem. If it is proportional representation that is the problem, I am going to take you through some figures that show that proportionally, when you are looking at the big picture, there really is not a problem.

Let us first start with some of the barometers of a healthy electoral system. There are two key barometers: one is participation and two is equity. When you are talking about participation there are three pillars to participation: one is maximising the amount of people – the percentage of the eligible voters that get on the electoral role – and then you are talking about the turn-up of those people who are on the role to the election. Having got there, you want to make sure that the electoral system is practical enough that people who intend to cast a formal vote, cast a formal vote. Sure, some people do not want to vote formally; they will rock up and not vote formally, and that is legitimate. They are making a choice. So, the third aspect – the third pillar – of participation is formal voting or minimising informal voting, and a group voting ticket is about savings provisions, which means that it is the gold standard in minimising informal rates of voting, so that gets a big tick as far as one criteria goes for the barometer of the health of an electoral system.

The second criteria is equity. How equitable is the electoral system? Let us go through some figures, shall we. The Labor Party got 33 per cent of the vote, and they have got 15 members of Parliament. That is 37.5 per cent of the seats in this place, so they are punching above their weight. For the Liberal Party, this is why I said I can see they are acting on principle. I actually do not know what the Labor position is, so I cannot actually say to you guys that you are acting on principle too. I do not know what your position is. So the Libs with the Nats have got 29.44 per cent of the vote, and they have got 35 per cent of the members of Parliament in this place, so maybe they should reconsider their position. That is 14 seats. This is where all the problems start. The Greens have got 11.5 per cent of the vote, and they have got 10 per cent of the members of Parliament. You are bang on. You know, you could do a little bit better, but you are nowhere near five yet. You know, you have not been done over too much. You have not been done over too much at all. The people that have been done over are the crossbenchers. So the major parties – and I include the Greens in this – have got 73.94 per cent of the votes and the major parties have got 82.5 per cent of the representation. You need to cannibalise the major parties and get more votes, but you are not going to get them because the Socialist Left are in charge of the Labor Party, so you are not going to outflank them on the left.

Dr Ratnam, the problem is this. The electorate have said, ‘We’re cheesed off with the way the major parties are doing business. We don’t like the apparatchiks. We don’t like the hacks. We don’t like the ideologues. We’re sick of you all. What we want is deliberative democracy, and we’re going to pick the crossbench. Right, we want crossbenchers.’ They’re a voice, the people from the suburbs. I am not one of them. I have evolved; I am becoming closer to them now. So the electorate have said we are going to give 73.4 per cent of the votes to the major parties, and we want you to not have this percentage – whatever it was – to elect 100 per cent of the MPs. That would be wrong to have three major parties elect 100 per cent of the MPs in this place. That would be gaming the system. It would be wrong. The public would be even more dissatisfied with the outcome there.

The crossbench have got 26 per cent in total of the vote, but they only got 17.45 per cent of the seats in this place. Let us face it, what this is about for the Greens is this. The Greens do not like the Animal Justice Party, do not like the cannibal party –

Members interjecting.

Adem SOMYUREK: That is the Shooters – the cannabis party cannibalising their votes. See, they do not accept that single-issue parties are legitimate. Not too long ago when I was in this place none of us accepted that the Greens were legitimate because we thought they were a single-issue party as well. The Greens remind me of the ethnic communities, the latest immigration communities that come in and want to keep the rest of them out. That is how they are. They do not like the fact that the Animal Justice Party and the cannabis party are picking off votes because they see the people that vote for the cannabis party, the people that vote for the Animal Justice Party as their constituents. So what the Greens are saying is, ‘We want those back. We want the three more seats that the cannabis party have got and Animal Justice have got. We deserve to have seven seats. Why? Because we are entitled to it. Why? I don’t know.’ You have got 11.5 per cent of the seats. You got 11.575 per cent of the votes, you cannot have 22.5 per cent of the seats just because you want it. I will tell you why the Greens say that. They know there is research available which shows that people vote for the micro-party of their choice and then they go on to vote for the next major party that they are aligned to. Obviously the Greens lose preferences that way. So what this is about is expediency, and we need to do what we have always done, electoral reform based on principle.

Let me go back to 2004, 2005, when the Labor Party reformed the upper house in this place. We introduced – I say ‘we’; I was in the Labor Party then – proportional representation. That went against the Labor Party’s interests because we all knew at that point that the Greens were going to get a foothold and that they were going to cause some serious damage to the Labor Party vote, but we did it. We did it based on principle, not expediency. We did it based on the principle of proportional representation.

As predicted, the Greens got a foothold and got a bit more of a foothold and a bit more of a foothold, and here we are. I would not tempt fate by moving away from electoral reform based on principle. Both major parties have got a lot of mouths to feed. Once you start moving away from principle, and if they decide that electoral matters are now about expediency, believe me there is a lot of pressure. There are a lot of union officials and a lot of branch stackers in the Labor Party, and I am sure the Libs have got the same pressures. There are a lot of mouths to feed. There are a lot of mouths to feed in the major political parties. You know what, they might be feeding on the Greens if you are not careful and you move away from the principle. If you dilute proportional representation, you will end up with a version of the system that we had before, and that will mean the Greens being completely smashed in the upper house. So be careful. I would encourage you not to move away from principle and to leave political expediency away from this.

Lee TARLAMIS: I move, by leave:

That the total time for debate on this motion be extended by up to 40 minutes.

Motion agreed to.

Nicholas McGOWAN (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (15:29): It is a pleasure to rise and speak on this matter today. I think the candour with which this debate has occurred is actually a very healthy thing, a healthy thing I say for our democracy, not our partisan politics. As those in this chamber are probably well aware, some of the first speech I gave to this place was spent on this very issue. I was then and I remain now very passionate about democratic reform. The problem is we hear that word bandied around here so often that everyone claims it. But what does it actually mean? As the member in this place Mr Somyurek has alluded to, it can mean very many things.

It was perhaps somewhat enlightening to have the history lesson from member Batchelor today. But the truth is, for all the so-called democratic reforms of the Labor government, what they actually did was strip away the fundamental requirement that when somebody leaves this chamber they should be replaced democratically by a vote of the people. I cannot think of a fundamentally less democratic way to elect someone to this place, by very definition. That is a reality. It is just one reality. When anyone looks at the history of this place in its totality, they must take these things into account.

We must also, when we review these things, including the way we elect representatives to this place, be mindful of the role this place actually plays. As I have pointed out previously, once upon a time this was a chamber of equal value. That is no longer the case. We are the lesser chamber. We cannot block supply. Once upon a time we had that right. That was stripped away, yet again by the Bracks government, who could not wait – had been waiting decades, it is fair to say – to strip this chamber of its democratic right. Again, there could not have been a more fundamental or blunt assault on democracy in this state.

I will make this point for all those present and perhaps those listening elsewhere: this is not a debate of personalities, nor is it a debate of particular individuals. I do not begrudge anyone their presence here; in fact I welcome it. It is great. I commend you. I respect the fact you are here, and I actually look forward to working with everyone. However, that does not mean that we cannot have constructive debate about how we all got here, including me. And if that should mean that in the future some review does away with my position and the position of others here, then so be it. What are we afraid of? Is it getting a job in the real world? Is that the problem we are all confronting here? This constant want for politicians to have their noses stuck in the trough – that is what is turning people off politics. I have spent most of my life outside this chamber. I am sure I will survive again when I leave. That is what it is about.

What we cannot have as any part of the review or any part of any future law is horsetrading. Money exchanged to minor parties, money exchanged to major parties – whatever it may be. While we are talking about money, let us also consider that as part of this review. As part of those reforms, suddenly the taxpayer was footing the bill for our electioneering – for our campaigning. It sort of makes us all look like we are fools. On one hand we are having all these investigations and all these inquiries into how we spend money, because we could be using it politically, but in actual fact the entire system is based on a system that according to your votes you get paid to campaign. What a mess. No wonder the public are sceptical. No wonder they are losing faith, not only in this place and in the other chamber but in the entire political system in this country. I welcome the review.

For the benefit of those who were not here previously, let me just go through some of the figures. In 2018 – not too long ago – Mr Barton got 2508 votes and could still win. A Liberal Democrat got 0.84 per cent and still got elected. The Animal Justice Party got 2.7 per cent and still got elected. The Reason Party – of course we know what happened there – got 1.37 per cent. And I have already covered it, but this last election is faring almost worse: Animal Justice Party, 1.5 per cent; One Nation, 3.6 per cent; Liberal Democrats, 3.5 per cent; Shooters and Fishers, 2.9 per cent.

My problem is not with the individuals; my problem is not with their causes. My problem is not even with the contribution they make, because I hope it is going to be a great one. My problem is with a system we call democracy which actually does not instil confidence in the people who vote for us to be here. If we are all fair dinkum about the review, then we should be looking at voting systems. We should be looking at things like first past the post – dare I say it. This whole preference system where we actually accord the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth – in our system, the vote is endless. That is not a vote; that is gaming. That is like going down to your local RSL and pressing a button. That is what we are doing. That is what it felt like, in all honesty, for those of you who, like me, were present when after all the votes had been calculated and put into the system they literally pressed a button. It felt like I was at the pokies, and your fate and the fate of this state actually goes according to the distribution of preferences – the gaming of preferences. So when we start using words like ‘gaming’ in the democratic sense and ‘harvesting’ – this is 2023, ladies and gentlemen. 2023, and we are talking about harvesting of votes and we are dancing around the law – in a beautiful way, nothing is illegal. Forget about the ethics of what we are doing, nothing to see here.

If we keep going as we are, we should not be surprised that the public will lose confidence in the role we play, and that is fundamental. That is the most important guiding principle, as Mr Somyurek said, that we have to keep foremost in our mind when we look to changing our system of governance and governing. If this does not govern the decisions we make – if we instead make decisions based on our own self-interest, our own tenure here, our own future here and that of our parties – then the future, I put to you, is rather bleak.

I am an optimist. Many before me have been optimists, and I hope many optimists follow. I am optimistic that this review will produce something meaningful. I am optimistic that everyone in this chamber might participate in a meaningful way. I am perhaps less optimistic that it might get through the lower house, but time will tell. For my efforts and for my time here with our party we will be working assiduously to ensure that the taxpayers of this state, the citizens of this state, end up with a government that is representative, that has not been gamed and where we are not using words like ‘harvesting’, ‘gaming’ and ‘preference deals’.

Only if we get to that point can we actually start to debate some of the more fundamental issues and frankly some vital issues that stand from before this day. I know the Greens have often mentioned and often talked about not only the environment but housing, housing affordability, housing of homeless people and the care and attention we can pay to all manner of people in our society. Then we might have more time to focus on their needs, but we have to start with a very sound foundation upon which to do that, and I put it to you that foundation and that start, I hope, are in the form of this review, notwithstanding I would have personally liked concrete action from the beginning, and I think the people of Victoria certainly deserve that action to have come from their government. It is a great failing of this government that they have not taken that initiative, but given their track record it is no surprise.

Sonja TERPSTRA (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (15:39): I rise to make a contribution on this motion brought by Dr Ratnam on group voting. I have had the benefit of listening to many of the contributions, and they have been quite entertaining, enlightening, educational and a whole range of other things. But I think what is important to note is that whatever system you have for voting, you have got to have a system, and I think our system of voting for upper house electoral results is one that has been commented upon by many people and analysed and picked apart. I think some of the earlier contributions that have been made today have quite aptly pointed out the results of voting across Victoria. There is conjecture about how that ultimately ended up, but by and large what this chamber reflects is the will of the Victorian people in terms of what we have got.

Of course there may be some anomalies somewhere, but by and large the representation in this chamber reflects the will of the people. I know the Greens do not like that; of course they want to maximise their representation in this chamber. That is obvious and unsurprising. But again, to bring a motion like this – I note the language is quite inflammatory as well in there, like ‘We must have an independent review.’ It is standard Greens tactics. ‘Urgently establish’ – I do like all the overuse of adjectives in there to try and say how urgent it is. But the bottom line is that this system, the last round of reforms that were actually brought in, the group voting ticket system, was first used in Victorian elections in 2006, and there has been upper house reform – and I note that others here today have commented on the trajectory of this chamber and the reforms that have been experienced. So it is not like it is something that has never been looked at.

Also it is a good opportunity to highlight some of the achievements. Our government, the Andrews Labor government, has a really proud record on electoral reforms. Before the 2018 election we passed some of the most extensive reforms to the Electoral Act 2002, and that was when the Greens actually had five people in this chamber. I did hear a contribution by another Greens member in the other place yesterday saying that this electoral result was the biggest result the Greens have had, so he was quite wrong in that regard – there were previously five members in this chamber. Nevertheless, the Greens were present in this chamber then and they are also here now. No motions were previously moved until they were whittled down to one upper house member in the last Parliament. So again, it really is about expediency rather than good intentions.

Effectively, as I said, we have implemented some of the toughest political donation law reforms in Australia, and we are proud of that. The requirement to disclose donations in a timely manner speaks to the Andrews Labor government’s commitment to transparency, because on this side of the house we believe Victorians have a right to know who is donating to candidates as they elect their representatives. It is something we are proud of and it is something that was needed, and we took that on. It was a tough issue and we did it. Not only are the disclosure requirements in place but there is also an onus on the person or party receiving donations to provide an annual return to the Victorian Electoral Commission – and the VEC publishes that information as well, so that is transparent. So to say that the way this system operates lacks transparency is, like I said, all about political expediency for the Greens.

Also in the 59th Parliament we introduced a bill to amend the Electoral Act in response to the recommendations made by the Electoral Matters Committee report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2018 Victorian state election, including addressing issues raised in early voting and with postal voting amendments, which the opposition opposed despite their unanimous support of the Electoral Matters Committee’s recommendations. So when it comes to electoral reforms our government has a clear record of getting on with it and rolling up our sleeves when it really matters.

This government respects the Parliament and its committees as the institutions to work through these matters, and this government values the hard work and expertise of the Electoral Matters Committee. As I have said and I have touched on already, the Electoral Matters Committee has already returned some very detailed responses and reports, and the review of the last election will be undertaken by the Electoral Matters Committee in the usual way. The government will assess the committee’s recommendations on their merits, and that is the appropriate thing to do.

I know there is a lot of disquiet over there on the Greens benches, but nevertheless there is a process for this to happen. It is interesting. The Electoral Matters Committee is the appropriate place to determine those things. Of course the Greens would like to say they are experts in these matters, because again it is about getting an outcome that they want. They are unhappy that they did not get more people in the chamber. That is obvious; it is just really obvious. I do not know how they can sit there and say that it is something other than it is, because like most people these days, people can actually see through that. It is really quite disingenuous, and it is obvious. I know a lot of people in my electorate actually comment to me about the disingenuousness of the Greens and how they constantly try to take credit for things that they do not do – and I note we are going to debate another motion very shortly where they are trying to take credit for things that they really have nothing to do with.

It just shows the immaturity of a fledgling political party who like to make out that they are of more significance than they actually are, and I remind them to look at the outcome of the Victorian election. The government was returned with an increased majority – and not only in this chamber. We have got a healthy government bench over here. Again, as I said earlier, there was plenty of commentary by other speakers about the mathematics of the result, and it actually is about right. Despite what you say, you have got a very limited representation or constituency, and it is reflected in the outcome of the election. Nevertheless, I think I will conclude my contribution there.

Samantha RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (15:46): It is a pleasure to rise to provide some summary and final reflections on the debate that we have had now over two sitting weeks. Firstly, thank you to everyone who has risen to make a contribution. We have had some really interesting and meaningful contributions, and I thank a number of members who have indicated their support across the aisle for this motion. We certainly have come a really long way from a similar debate we had in this place just over a year and a half ago, when I was the only member in this place that voted for fixing Victoria’s broken and undemocratic group voting system. I am pleased that we have arrived at this more progressive place.

We have heard throughout this debate over two weeks some very strong arguments for reform, a recognition that the system we have distorts the will of voters and is indeed undemocratic, and most people in this chamber have declared their position through their contribution. Even if we may not agree yet on the outcome of the reform process, the majority of us have indicated that we agree on the need for reform, and I think that is one of the most important outcomes of this debate. So I thank the chamber for engaging in this debate in the way they have.

I just want to respond to a couple of contributions before I conclude. Firstly, there is a lot that I can respond to in Mr Somyurek’s contribution. I do not really think it is worth our time in this debate to go into all that detail to do so. But let me just say it does seem like Mr Druery has been once again very busy with speechwriting, like we saw a couple of years ago, and I have to say that being lectured by Mr Somyurek on matters of principle and integrity is quite the experience.

What we have not heard during this debate, particularly from the government, is their position. Ms Terpstra has made a number of big claims with a number of inaccuracies through her contribution, which I would very much like to rectify. My colleague was right, the colleague that you bumped into –

Sonja Terpstra interjected.

Samantha RATNAM: Acting President, I would like to be able to offer my contribution without interruption. I cannot hear myself.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Bev McArthur): Order! Could we have a bit of quiet so Dr Ratnam can continue her summing up.

Members interjecting.

Aiv Puglielli: On a point of order, President, I was unable to hear the member’s contribution.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Bev McArthur): Could I please have silence so Dr Ratnam can continue her summing up.

Samantha RATNAM: Thank you, Acting President. We heard a number of inaccuracies in Ms Terpstra’s recent contribution, and just to correct the record, my colleague – I am not sure which colleague you bumped into; there are so many at the moment – that you bumped into was right. At the 2022 election we did have our best election result ever, electing eight Greens MPs at a general election for the very first time, and you have to add up the numbers in the lower and the upper house to get the eight. So, yes, we have moved in terms of numbers from previous election results in terms of our representation in the upper and lower houses. But we had a historic election result because more people are voting for the Greens because they like what we have to say.

In terms of the Electoral Matters Committee’s remit to review our voting systems at each election, Ms Terpstra was right in one part: the Electoral Matters Committee should be reviewing the election system. But what we saw over the last term was an absolute betrayal of Victorian voters by the government through the Electoral Matters Committee, who refused to hold an inquiry into the group voting system despite the majority of submissions to the 2018 election inquiry asking for that system to be reviewed and reformed. Not only did they refuse to hold an inquiry, they deliberately obstructed an inquiry from happening, using their majority on the Electoral Matters Committee. So we have government-dominated joint investigatory committees charged with doing this really important reform and review work for this Parliament but being rendered incapable because the government is using its majority to block reform that Victorians deserve.

When it comes to democratic reform, we are now left as a Parliament to think about how we progress this reform – hence the Greens have proposed through this motion that the government set up an independent expert panel to review and hopefully provide recommendations to reform this broken, undemocratic system – because how can we have faith in a system that is dominated by government that we have had ample evidence they have used to obstruct this meaningful democratic reform? We have provided a pathway forward that the government can now take. It leaves the government isolated in its position backing this broken, undemocratic system.

Motion agreed to.