Greens' upper house windfall

By Jason Dowling
Published October 2nd 2005 in The Age
CONGESTION levies, halving the number of poker machines, the decriminalisation of marijuana — all impossible? Think again.

Minor parties such as Family First and the Greens could have much greater influence on Victorian politics after the release on Thursday of the new boundaries for the upper house of Victoria's Parliament.

The boundaries, expected to be similar to the draft boundaries released in July, look promising for the Greens, who should pick up their first seat in the Victorian Parliament and possibly two.

Family First's chances are more difficult to gauge, but given the surprise election of Steve Fielding to the Senate last year, cannot be ruled out.

The changes are part of the biggest shake-up of the Legislative Council in 150 years, with a reduction in MPs from 44 to 40 and the introduction of proportional representation.

This will mean that a candidate will need only 16.7 per cent of the vote in one of the state's eight regions to have a member elected, instead of the 50.1 per cent required under the old system.

The Labor and Liberal parties believe 36 seats of the new Council are likely to fall to Labor, Liberals and Nationals, but the remaining four are up for grabs.

This could lead to parties such as the Greens or Family First holding the balance of power. The newly formed Country Alliance is another dark horse.

The Nationals look like being the hardest hit and have protested about the draft boundaries. They could have their members halved from four to two, which could cost them party status. But party leader Peter Ryan said the Nationals had examined past results and believed they could hold all four seats under the new voting system.

There will be eight new regions in the Council, three country and five metropolitan, each returning five members.

Voters will be given a second option for choosing their preferences by voting for one candidate above the line or numbering one to five below the line, in a system similar to Senate voting.

In one significant difference, voters can still number all the candidates below the line, but will need only to number one to five for their vote to count.

THE NEW UPPER HOUSE:

¡ Down from 44 to 40 members

¡ Eight regions with five members instead of 22 provinces with two members

¡ Proportional instead of preferential voting

¡ To be elected, members need 16.7 per cent of the vote instead of the previous 50.1 per cent

¡ Can vote above the line or number one to five below the line

¡ Fixed four-year terms