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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 5 Hansard (14 May) . . Page.. 2053..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

The ACT has been at the forefront of democratic reform in Australia-for example, through our use of a more representative electoral system in the form of Hare-Clark with Robson rotation and through the introduction of electronic voting and computer-assisted counting. I know that the Electoral Commission has been a strong and worthy advocate of electoral reform and I thank the commission for playing this important role, while ensuring that it maintains a non-partisan role in the conduct of elections.

The Democrats broadly agree with most of the recommendations of the commission that have been adopted in this bill. We think that the proposals that tighten the eligibility requirements for political parties are worthy amendments that ensure that political parties meet the registration requirements in a clear and fair manner. The Democrats have long been advocates of greater regulation of the operation of political parties, given their central role in the operation of the political system in Australia.

The Democrats also agree with the changes to postal voting to increase the likelihood of postal votes actually being included in the count, the changes to ensure that the Electoral Commissioner is not required to review his own decisions, and the additional requirements in relation to electoral advertising. However, removal of the ability for non-party groups to be listed in a separate column has raised some issues.

The commission has put a number of arguments on the practicality of having these additional columns, such as that they make the ballot papers longer and make it difficult to fit all candidates on the screen during electronic voting. The commission also points out:

...the facility for candidates to stand in non-party groups is most commonly used as a vehicle for two or more candidates to distinguish themselves on the ballot paper by being listed in a separate group. There is no requirement or expectation that candidates listed in a non-party group have anything in common other than a desire to be listed together in a separate column. Indeed, it is possible that one of the two candidates listed in the column may only have agreed to be nominated in order to allow the other candidate to be listed in a non-party group on the ballot paper.

These claims are no doubt true in some cases, but I am not convinced that they are sufficient to justify the elimination of non-party groups.

Large ballot papers can be difficult for voters to find their preferred candidates, but our ballot papers are not as large as the Senate ballot papers or other upper house ballot papers, such as those in New South Wales. In fact, despite the reforms of the New South Wales ballot paper in recent years, the number of candidates did not get much smaller. Administrative simplicity is not a good reason to remove columns. The democratic representation of candidates is the primary concern of the ballot papers and that should not be diluted by administrative convenience.

I would also argue that our system of Robson rotation is specifically designed to draw attention to the differences between candidates, even those who run in the same column. The Robson rotation system is recognition that the decisions than an assembly produces are influenced not only by the size of the political parties or the number of Independents, but also which specific members of each party are elected and their individuality.

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