AEC will take three months to change Senate voting system

THE Australian Electoral Commission says it will need at least three months to put in place the Turnbull government's proposed Senate voting reforms before this year's election can be held.

After the government introduced the voting reforms into parliament last week, a brief public hearing was held on the changes in Canberra yesterday.

The government is relying on the Greens and Senator Nick Xenophon to secure the passage of the bills through the Senate, with Labor and other crossbenchers opposed.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said changes to the Senate voting system will aim to end the "gaming of the system" by micro-parties.

But Labor has remained opposed to the reforms, fearing they could secure the Coalition's hold over the majority of Senate seats if enacted.

Officials from the AEC told the hearing yesterday that with the bill in its current form, it would take the commission at least three months to enact the changes for the coming election.

While Mr Turnbull has said he still expects an election to be held in August, September or October, the government has kept its options open for a double dissolution.

Because of constitutional constraints, if the government moved for a double dissolution, it would need to notify the Governor-General on May 11, one day after releasing the federal budget, for a July election.

Most of the Senate crossbench has opposed the voting reforms on the grounds it could dissolve the preference deals that got them elected in 2013.

Labor frontbencher Senator Stephen Conroy hit out at the reform process, labelling the brief four-hour hearing a "sham" given the bill was expected to go to a vote in the Senate today.

Constitutional law experts have also raised concerns the new system would create two different methods of voting - optional preferential and mandatory preferential - on the same ballot paper.

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