What the Double Dissolution Means for You
It’s happening. You wake up in the morning to notifications from your friends to like certain campaign pages, herds of eager adolescents are trolling the streets in matching brightly-coloured shirts, and there are more promises being thrown around than at a Wedding in the sticks.
Indeed, an election is upon us.
And no, those ones have just passed, thank goodness. We’re talking about a much larger democratic blood-bath set to take place on the nation’s stage. Folks, get out your partisan bumper stickers and start your engines: we have ourselves a Double Dissolution.
On the 8th of May, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull emerged from Government House to announce that the Governor-General “has accepted my advice to dissolve both house of Parliament effective tomorrow”. As a result, a double-dissolution election will be taking place on July 2. It’s a radical move that has only been pulled twice in Australia’s political history.
But what is a Double-Dissolution and how do the Senate voting reforms come into play? Do not fear: Pulp is here to cut through the confusion and tell you what this political-change up means for you.
1. You Need to Enroll to Vote
First of all, an election means voting, and voting typically involves voters, and the voter here is you.
Unless your have the cash moneys to fork out for a hefty fine, you’ll want to make sure you are enrolled to vote in the upcoming election. Unlike the States, in Australia you have to enroll to vote if you are over the age of 18, are an Australian citizen or eligible British subject, and have lived at your address for at least 1 month.
The deadline to enroll or update your details to vote in the upcoming Federal Election is 8pm, Monday 23 May, 2016. You can do that here: http://www.aec.gov.au/enrol/
If you think you’ll be overseas during this time, you’ll also need to let the Government know about that. Yep, not even temporarily fleeing the country will get you out of casting your preference.
2. And You’ll Be Voting for Every. Single. Seat.
The fact we are having an election this year is no big shock; every three years, we are called to the polls to vote in a completely new House of Representatives, and half of the Senate. This is because Senators serve a six year term, and elections are held every three years, meaning half are voted in each time on an alternating basis.
However, a double dissolution democratically spring-cleans both parliamentary houses, putting every seat up for reelection.
But why would our Prime Minister go to all the effort of calling a Double Dissolution when he has the power to call a regular federal election this year?
Back in March, Turnbull handed down the ultimatum: the Senate needed to pass the Government’s ABCC as it made its way to the upper house for the second time (after already having been rejected in 2014), or he would dissolve parliament. It was unlikely the Labor and Greens Senators were going to do this under any circumstances because the legislation proposed to establish a construction watchdog after the Gillard Labor government abolished it in 2012.
There was a lot of talk about whether certain crossbench Senators would be tempted to pass the ABCC bill to avoid their jobs being thrown up for contest. But when the bill hit the Senate a few weeks ago, they hit back, rejecting the Government’s ABCC bill to re-establish the construction watchdog 36 votes to 34.
The two-time rejection of this bill formed the ‘trigger’ for Turnbull to call upon the Governor General for backup. It’s an important contingency plan factored into our constitution. I mean, parliament can’t function if both houses are in a deadlock.
However, arguably Turnbull’s decision to appeal for a Double Dissolution was motivated by that fact that this year --
3. You (that’s right, YOU!) have more say in which people will take these seats… kind of
Remember Sleepless Senate earlier this year? That night when all the Senators stayed over in parliament house trying to delay the unlikely Liberal-Greens Coalition from passing voting reforms? Well, those changes come into play in how you vote in the upcoming Federal Election.
Under these reforms, parties would no longer be able to swap preferences in back room deals. That way, your votes can’t flow from one party to another and senators can’t be elected if they have a small proportion of the primary vote (like 2013 Motoring Enthusiast Party’s Ricky Muir, who was elected on less than 1%).
You can either vote above or below the line for the 12 senate seats your state has claim to. If you vote above the line, you just rank the parties, not their individual candidates. The parties then allocate your vote depending on how they have decided to preference their candidates. For example, if you vote 1 for Palmer United, your vote will go towards Clive Palmer. But if he makes quota before your vote is counted, then your vote flows onto the candidate they preference second, for example Bob Day.
But if you don’t like how a party is preferences their candidates, or you like a number of particular candidates across several parties, you can vote for them individually below the line. The voting reforms say you have to number at least 12 squares below the line, but your ballot will be formal as long as it shows 6 consecutive preferences. Also, if you screw up your math and accidentally skip a number or write it twice, your ballot is still formal and your preferences counted up until the number you skipped (i.e. if you preference 12 people, but skip number 8, preferences 1 to 7 will count).
These changes uphold a more direct democracy – you have one vote and one vote only, and only you can decide where to which parties or individuals that vote will go. No back-room deals can change that.
On the other hand, if you were intending on voting for a smaller party (like the Australian Sex Party) the chances of their candidate being elected to Senate is smaller for the very same reason – they don’t command as much of the primary vote, and they cannot rely on deals to support them into positions. Minority voices are more likely to be excluded from the Upper House, and the tyranny of the major parties may rise.
4. But there is a chance that minor parties may still have their voices heard in the Senate
There is a catch to calling a Double-Dissolution, however, which may see smaller parties gaining seats in the Senate. The quota for a senator in a regular election is just over 14% of the vote. However, because twice as many positions are up for grabs in the Double Dissolution, Senators will only need half (7.7%) of the vote to get elected. This means it will be easier for minor parties with smaller voting pools to make quota.
So if you are thinking of backing a smaller party, don’t think your vote is going to waste just yet! If anything, it may be more valuable than ever.