High Court hearing on Senate voting change

A High Court challenge is about to be launched against new laws changing the way Australians elect senators.

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The first directions hearing will be held in Sydney via video link from Perth before Chief Justice Robert French at 11am (AEDT) on Thursday, two days after Family First senator Bob Day filed an application challenging the changes.

It comes less than a week after the changes cleared parliament, following a marathon 40-hour debate.

“Political parties have seized control of the states’ house, the Senate, and I look forward to hearing what the High Court has to say about that,” Senator Day said on Wednesday.

The federal government has insisted the changes are constitutionally sound and will withstand any challenge.

It argues the changes will hand power back to the people, allowing voters to choose their own preferences rather than having them directed via backroom deals.

At the next federal election, voters will allocate their own preferences by numbering at least six boxes above the line on a Senate ballot paper.

Below the line they need only number 12 boxes.

Senator Day and other crossbenchers argue these changes will prevent minor parties and independents from getting elected, ignoring the will of the three million voters who voted for them at the last federal election.

“The seriousness of the matter is demonstrated by the High Court bringing it on urgently,” Senator Day said.

“People wrote off my case saying I had no chance, but they have scant regard for voters’ rights and the constitution.”

Constitutional law expert Anne Twomey, from Sydney University, believes the changes are likely to be upheld by the High Court.

She says no one’s right to vote is being limited or taken away, with the changes enhancing a voter’s ability to express and control their voting choices.