Malcolm Turnbull will finally introduce electronic voting. Wait…for the Parliament?

MPs cross the floor during a division at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares Coalition frontbenchers during a division in the House of Representatives in March, 2015. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

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The division on the second reading of the Omnibus Bill at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 14 September 2016. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew Meares

MPs could soon be able to vote in Canberra without leaving their green leather seats. Just by swiping a smart card. How marvellous.

No counting off votes by whips. Perhaps even no damning or humiliating pictures of the nation’s privileged representatives being seen to line up like sheep on an issue, and being accountable to constituents and/or colleagues for their actions.

Nup. Swipe a card, press a button. Matter dispatched. Problem resolved.

That’s right, with all the challenges facing this country from entrenched poverty, to national security, from homelessness, to runaway pharmaceutical costs, species loss, and aged care, the Turnbull cabinet has put “The Fixer” on to the pressing urgency of establishing electronic voting in the House of Representatives.

Perhaps Christopher Pyne will go further and propose the extension of electronic voting facilities on bills from the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge at Canberra’s schmick new airport. At least that way he could gather up those pesky WA MPs running for the last plane out on a Thursday.

Pyne has been handed the job of constructing a cabinet submission on the best way to introduce electronic House voting procedures.

To what end you may well ask?

What’s the problem really?

Clearly, if there is a problem of major logistical dimensions associated with voting in Australia, it ain’t the tiny matter of a few overpaid MPs being into a formal division.

It’s voting itself – in general elections.

As we saw again in the recent post-election debacle, the result was not known on the night. Indeed, it took weeks to determine the outcome in some seats.

The overwhelming problem in Australia is not parliament but the antiquated pencil-and-paper voting system for the selection of MPs.

This is a process in which imprecision, ambiguity, and the potential for both administrative error and malfeasance are rife.

Malcolm Turnbull is to be congratulated for his willingness to embrace technology where the opportunity provides.

But presenting solutions, especially expensive and time-consuming ones, to problems that have never been laid out, and may not even exist, is a classic error of politics.

Updating voting procedures in the chambers is a 20th-order issue, whereas fixing the electoral system is right up the top.

Perhaps the only public interest argument in favour of electronic voting is that it might, “might” that is, facilitate some MPs voting more often according to their own judgment, if freed from the peer pressure of having to physically cross the floor from colleagues.

But even for this argument to hold water is a pretty poor commentary on the courage and independence of our federal representatives.

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