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Economics Title

Elections for the House of Representatives and Senate

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Max Brampton

Learning Objectives


Elections in Australia

Elections in Australia must be Free, Fair, and Regular.

- Free: AEC administers Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 independently

- Fair: Preferential, proportional, and compulsory voting, ensures better mandates and representation and chance of participation

- Regular: s28 creates a 3 year maximum term for House of Representatives, s7 creates fixed 6 year terms

Elections in the House of Representatives

Electoral Accountability in the House of Representatives have the following characteristics;

- Single member electorate system

Single member electorate systems such as PV offer a very high standard of accountability as there is a direct link between representation and candidate. They directly represent their electorate and constituency.

- Majoritarian system

The majoritarian system, although effective in creating strong, effective government, can misrepresent the true voting intentions of voters.

e.g. Tony Abbott of Warringah – Abbott served from 1994-2019 as the member for Warringah, holding ministerial positions and eventually PM in 2013. Because his views of anti-abortion, resistance for same-sex marriage, which contradict the increasingly socially progressive views of his electorate. With the assistance of Voices of Warringah (VOW), Zali Steggall was elected in his place in 2019. They were able to hold Abbott to account for his misrepresentation of Warringah views and ideologies.

Elections in the Senate

Electoral Accountability of the Senate

- Multi-member electorate system

Because voters vote for 6 senators at a time, it is difficult to recognize who should be held accountable for the value and effectiveness of representation the constituency receives. Additionally, the complexity of below the line voting means that many voters vote above, surrendering their opportunity to hold individual Senators to account to the party preferences.

e.g. Lisa Singh (TAS) was demoted to an unwinnable 6thplace on the group ticket by the ALP in 2016, but mounted a campaign to encourage voters to vote below the line, and was re-elected to the Senate. Evidence of 2016 reforms to improve accountability.

- Equally represents states regardless of population size

Members of smaller states are less accountable as they are answerable to fewer electors than other states

- Senators have disproportionate impact over legislation because of mallaportionment 

e.g. Jacquie Lambie (Tasmania) decided fate of Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019

Accountability for Members

Ways to hold members to account

- Marginal seat campaign

Pressure groups and voters can focus on marginal seats where elections are won and lost e.g. Tony Abbott and Warringah 2019

- Sitting member last campaigns

Achieved by asking electors to place the sitting member last on their ballot paper. Used through how to vote cards and maximized accountability by pressure groups and minor parties.

e.g. Andrew Nikolic was outed from the seat of Bass (Tas) in 2016, and replaced with ALP candidate Ross Hart, after GetUp! sent out 90 volunteers with how to vote cards advising Bass electors put Nikolic last.

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