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Parliamentary electoral committee floats bigger parliament, longer terms and no byelections

A government-dominated parliamentary committee has recommended the voting system for federal elections should become optional preferential and pre-polling should be reduced from three to two weeks.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its report on the 2019 election also urges ID, such as a driver’s licence or Medicare card, be required for voters, with special arrangements for certain disadvantaged people.

In a set of radical proposals the report says a referendum should be considered to break the constitutional nexus between the numbers in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The government should consider asking the committee to inquire into the size of the lower house, given the growing size and demands of electorates, the report says.

It should also consider having the committee examine extending the parliamentary term to a non-fixed four years, with eight years for senators.

The report suggests looking at the viability of replacing by-elections with alternative methods of selecting the new MP, and declaring a seat “vacant when the sitting MP resigns from or leaves the party under which they were elected”.

In his forward to the report, Queensland Liberal National Party senator James McGrath says replacing compulsory preferential voting with optional preferential would maximise voter choice.

Prepolling time should be reduced to a maximum of two weeks and those “who choose to vote early should be required to explain why they are unable to attend on the day rather than it being a matter of convenience,” he writes.

Labor put in a dissenting report opposing a number of recommendations.

The shadow special minister of state, Don Farrell, accused the government of launching “an outrageous authoritarian-style assault on Australian democracy”.

Through its control of the committee, “the government is proposing drastic measures designed to silence its critics, suppress the vote and stop workers and grass-roots campaigners from participating in our democracy,” Farrell said in a statement.

He said moving to optional preferential voting would undermine the compulsory voting system, while voter ID laws would disenfranchise vulnerable citizens, including homeless people and many indigenous Australians.

Abolishing by-elections and allowing the retiring member’s party to choose their replacement would erode democratic rights, Farrell said.

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