Senate reform and the political class

andrew-baker An ABC interview with one of Victoria's potential new senators, the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party's Ricky Muir, summed up the reaction of some in the political class to the election of a new crop of ordinary Australians from minor parties to parliament.

At one stage in the interview on 7:30, the reporter, Greg Hoy, comments that Mr Muir 'might have to brush up on his camera skills a little.' We then see an outtake of Mr Muir stumbling over one his answers and saying 'the majority of us sometimes get (pauses to think) – it'll come out. It's going to come out.'

The ABC's treatment of Mr Muir sums up the reaction of many to the election of several minor parties, including the Liberal Democrats, Family First, Palmer United Party, and potentially the Australian Sports Party and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, who will join the Democratic Labor Party and independent Nick Xenophon in the Senate.

The reaction includes calls for Senate reform to shut out political outsiders from minor parties from being elected in the future – optional preferential voting is a common response – which would help ensure the quick exhaustion of preferences that minor parties rely upon (former Greens leader Bob Brown makes the case in The Age).

Other possibilities posited include introducing a minimum primary vote threshold of around 4% which would exclude parties that only get one or two thousand votes from being elected to the Senate (for example the Australian Sports Party).

Whether or not you think these are worthy reforms, the outcome is obvious – they would effectively entrench the major parties and preserve the place of the current political class at the expense of ordinary Australians who want to get involved in the political process outside of the major parties.

Locking these individuals out of the political process has the potential to make Australia worse off rather than better off by destroying one of the incentives of getting involved in political debate – the prospect of being elected to parliament.

At the very least we should congratulate the likes of Leyonhjelm, Day, Lazarus, Dropulich, and Muir for their contribution to civil society so far and give them a fair go into the future.

Andrew Baker is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.