MICRO-parties counting down the weeks to their demise have been granted a High Court challenge to the reforms threatening to wipe them from the Senate. The court has agreed to hear Family First Senator Bob Day’s case that democracy is infringed by new laws designed to kill off micro-party candidates elected on a fraction of the vote.
“Today was a really important win in the battle for voters’ rights,” Senator Day told reporters outside the court in Canberra yesterday.
“And let’s be clear, what happened last month in the parliament – voters’ rights were taken away.”
Under the reforms, voters will have to order their preferences from at least first to sixth place instead of simply placing a “1” above the line on Senate ballot cards.
Below-the-line voters – who make up only 3% of the population – will have to choose only 12 preferences, rather than every one.
The reform aims to stop micro-parties trading preferences – a tactic used to great effect by Glenn Druery, a political strategist who has earned the title of “preference whisperer” for helping micro-parties get elected in 2013.
Mr Druery formed the Minor Party Alliance, a coalition of 30 small parties and independents who strategically swapped preferences, resulting in the election of a candidate from the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party on 0.5% of the vote and the Family First Party on a 3.8% share.
The Australian Sports Party was elected but later ousted when Western Australia’s Senate count was declared void.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and the Greens supported the Turnbull government’s voting reforms, which were passed after more than 28 hours of debate last month.
Senator Day’s class action also calls for the High Court to prevent a double dissolution election until after it has made its decision.
Queensland Senator Glenn Lazarus said the High Court’s acceptance of the case demonstrated there were “valid issues with the reforms”.
“Malcolm Turnbull needs to respect the High Court process, abandon the stupid idea of a double dissolution election on July 2, run full term – which he promised to do – and start governing the country,” he said.
“Australia cannot go to an election until the Senate voting mess is sorted out.” The hearing will run for two days from May 2.