By Malcolm Mackerras

Readers of my contributions to this website probably have noticed that I have developed something of an obsession about Senate reform. 

I do not apologise for that. It is an important subject, as most people will readily acknowledge. The reason for my obsessiveness, however, is that it comes from a feeling one gets when one knows one is right yet so few people are willing to provide a platform for the expression of such correct and well-informed views. That is my situation.

I can now report that my campaign (which has been continuous since the September 2013 federal election) is going very well indeed. The reasons for my success (the details of which are given in predictions below) have been partly my tough-mindedness but also because I have shown a willingness to attack various people who I like personally. The main objects of my attack have been Senator Nick Xenophon, The Greens political party and ABC election analyst Antony Green. 

Regarding the platforms given to me, the one I like the most is Switzer Daily, by which I mean this website and the conversations I have with Peter on television on a regular/irregular basis. However, I am not paid for my contributions here. 

The one I like the second most is The Canberra Times newspaper, but they pay very badly. The one I like the third most is The Australian newspaper who pay very well but who are very difficult to get into, unless you are a staff member or one of their favourite commentators, people like Janet Albrechtsen, Henry Ergas, Gerard Henderson and Gary Johns. 

To illustrate my point: I had an opinion piece published in The Australian on Monday, January 11 2016 for which I am to be paid $750. By contrast The Canberra Times published five opinion pieces by me in the second half of 2015 for which each payment was $150. So my income from five articles in The Canberra Times is equal to my income from one article in  The Australian.

Now regarding these people I attack I have already described my view of Green in my article here on April 27, 2015 titled, Why ABC’s Antony Green is wrong about the ‘feral’ Senate,  and I return to him below. Senator Xenophon is an affable man but, in truth, he is cheap-jack populist for whom many South Australians vote because he defends the interests of South Australia, as he should. I like Greens politicians personally but, as a party, I have to say they are the party of moral vanity. Each time I write an article in a newspaper about them I find myself drawn again to that description. They ARE the party of moral vanity.

Back in December last year I was so infuriated by certain claims made by Xenophon that I decided to launch my strongest-ever personal attack. It was in a Canberra Times article of mine published on December 28 titled “Put people before parties” to which the editor added “Maintaining constitutional integrity with Senate reform is now in the hands of Labor and the Liberals”. Xenophon replied in an article on New Year’s Day but he will, I assure readers here, finish up with egg on his face which would not matter to him because of Canberra’s unimportance electorally.

Xenophon’s party will perform very well in South Australia, getting elected certainly one additional senator in a half-Senate election and two in the unlikely event of a double dissolution. Whether they make a break-through into the House of Representatives depends, I think, on whether the Liberal Party keeps Jamie Briggs as its Mayo candidate. The Xenophon party would defeat Briggs, on Labor preferences. However, in my opinion, any Liberal candidate other than Briggs would hold that seat for the party.

What is so peculiar about the arguments I am having with these people is that I agree with much of what they say about the Senate. My objection to them, and their supporters, is that they promote a reform, which is obviously unconstitutional in preference to my reform, which would bring the Senate system back to meet the requirements of the Australian Constitution.

The simple fact is that section 7 for the Senate and section 24 for the House of Representatives both command that our federal politicians be “directly chosen by the people”. In other words the electoral system must be candidate-based in all cases. That has never been a problem for the House of Representatives. Every single member of the House of Representatives (note: no exceptions) has been directly chosen by the people. However, for the Senate since 1984 the reality has been and continues to be that senators have not been directly elected. Obviously, therefore, the present Senate system is unconstitutional. So, how did it pass muster in the High Court? I know the answer but I lack the space to give details. Just take this from me: any reform moving the system in the direction of a candidate base would pass muster in the High Court but any reform moving the system in the direction of party lists would be struck down.

So, what to expect? At the 2016 election your Senate ballot paper will look the same as before but the below-the-line option will be different. If you live in New South Wales it was this in 2013: “Or: below the line – by placing the numbers 1 to 110 in the order of your preference”. In 2016 it will read something like this: “Or: below the line – by placing the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the order of your preference. You may, if you wish, vote for additional candidates by placing consecutive numbers beginning with 7 in the squares opposite the names of those additional candidates in the order of your preference for them.”

In 2019 expect a Senate ballot paper, which looks rather different. There will be no thick black line and no party boxes above it. The instructions for your vote will be the same as for your below-the-line option in 2016. In 2019 Australia will have candidate-based electoral systems for both the Senate and House of Representatives as commanded by sections 7 and 24 of our Constitution.