Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 5 Hansard (14 May) . . Page.. 2074..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
controversial to give such members an additional leg up by allowing them named group columns-a pseudo party status.
I moved an amendment in the debate on this provision in June 2001, which, by proposing that ballot groups must have 100 supporters to be registered as such, made the point that candidates who are part of a party are listed separately because they are clearly identifiable with a set of policies, supporters, co-developers of policy and a constitution through which they can be held accountable.
Ballot groups are the provision to allow a sitting Independent to have a labelled column, with other candidates. This gives them their name at the top, which no other individual candidate gets. In fact, our electoral system is very special in Australia in the lengths we go to to avoid having any one candidate with their name at the top of a list.
This amendment was brought in in 2001, in what appeared to be an appeasement of the then sitting Independents. It was also, I understand, intended to be a kind of harm minimisation, as a couple of sitting Independents had formed parties in the previous election which then, once elected, disbanded. This made a mockery of a party system. Members of the public, concerned about whether these were genuine parties, found it very difficult to prove it. Even if it were impossible to join, it seemed that there was no way to challenge the registration.
But dealing with this by allowing a different route to essentially form another pseudo party-as far as it appears on the ballot paper-seems to me to be missing the point. Since then, we have also required that all applicants for party registration, regardless of whether they have a sitting member, must have 100 members registered to vote. This is another layer of accountability on party status that was not required at the time that those Independents registered essentially bogus parties.
Any Independent putting themselves forward has the capacity to form a non-party group-they can be more prominent in that way-but no other sitting MLA has any identification as such on the ballot paper. This is not about opposing Independents; this is about accuracy. I think that if there are serious problems in checking on whether a party is, in fact, a genuine party-in the sense of having active members, with a say in the party's platform and representatives and so on-then this is what needs to be fixed.
We had two strong objections to this arrangement: first, it gave an advantage to sitting Independents over new Independents and, second, it created an impression of a party when, in fact, there was no such thing. The second argument matters to us because a party requires, first, a group of people to sign up and be part of the decision making and, second, a constitution and set of policies. There is accountability and a structure to guide the work of the individuals elected. There is no such structure or accountability in the ballot groups. I have a third point as well, which I have already made-that is, ballot groups are quite inconsistent with how the rest of the voting system works in terms of ensuring random rotation so that one person is not at the top of any column permanently. I am quite prepared to support the government to remove this ballot group option from our system because I do not think it is fair.
MS DUNDAS (11.40): I have spent some time considering this amendment. I think there are some very interesting points being put on both sides of the debate. Looking back over