- What is a division?
- When does a division occur?
- Why don’t all decisions made in Parliament appear on They Vote For You?
- Why don’t all the divisions have edited summaries?
- What are Policies and how do they work?
- How did you decide the degree to which someone supports a policy?
- What are “Rebel Voters”?
- What is a “Free Vote”?
- What do the "attendance" figures mean?
- What do the "rebellion" figures mean?
- What happens if a division is tied?
How does They Vote For You work?
Debate transcripts of the House of Representatives and the Senate are published online as Hansard. They Vote For You takes these records and compiles lists of votes that you can access under Divisions. You can search these votes or you can browse the votes that are relevant to the particular policy areas listed under Policies (for more on our policies, see What are Policies and how do they work?).
If you're wondering why we don't source our information from the official record of how people voted, Votes and Proceedings or Journals of the Senate, it's because they're not published in any useable form by Parliament. It would make everyone's life so much easier if these were available in an open and machine-readable format.
What time period does it cover?
They Vote For You’s voting and membership data extends back to 2006. New divisions are added as soon as possible after becoming available. We give no warranty for the data so let us know if you find any factual inaccuracies.
The project contains 642 distinct Representatives and Senators from 26 parties who have voted across 6,308 divisions. In total 550,078 votes were cast, 203 were against the majority vote for their party giving an average rebellion rate of 0.04%.
7212 contributors have created 241 policies and summarised 3053 divisions.
What is a division?
A division is a formal vote on a motion in the House of Representatives or the Senate. A motion is a formal proposal put to the House or Senate to take action of some kind.
When a division is called on a particular motion, Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Representatives or Senators in the Senate divide themselves into two groups: one that votes Yes and one that votes No. Each political party has whips who try to persuade their members to vote along party lines.
When does a division occur?
Most decisions in Parliament are made ‘on the voices’ and not by division. When a question is asked by the Chair, the Members of Parliament (MPs) or Senators call out Yes or No and the Chair decides which are in the majority without recording the names of who voted and how they voted.
A division is only called if two or more MPs or Senators call for one. If only one MP or Senator calls for a division then their name may be recorded in the official record (the Hansard) but no division will occur.
In the House of Representatives, if there are four or less MPs on a side of the division then the division does not proceed and the Speaker declares the decision of the House immediately. However, the names of the MPs in the minority are recorded.
In the Senate, if there is only one Senator on a side of the division then the division does not proceed and the President declares the decision of the Senate immediately. However, the names of the lone Senator may be recorded.
Why don’t all decisions made in Parliament appear on They Vote For You?
They Vote For You is concerned with the voting patterns of politicians, which means it is limited to formal votes (known as divisions, see What is a division?). This is because politicians’ names and how they voted are only recorded in the official record of Parliament (known as the Hansard) when a division occurs.
Unfortunately, most decisions in Parliament are not made by division (see When does a division occur?) and so do not appear on this site.
Why don’t all the divisions have edited summaries?
When you click on a link for a division, you will be taken to a summary that will either contain an edited description of the division or a message letting you know that we need someone to provide one.
What are Policies and how do they work?
On They Vote For You, the Policies are sets of votes on an issue.
We choose and develop particular Policies for a number of reasons. For example, we prioritise issues where politicians have rebelled (e.g. the local government recognition divisions) or where parties have allowed their members to take a free vote (e.g. the same sex marriage divisions) because these divisions give a strong indication of an individual politician’s voting patterns (see What are “Rebel Voters”? and What is a “Free Vote”?). Other reasons for selecting a particular Policy include whether the matter was an election issue (e.g. the carbon price) and whether there was a high level of attendance (see What do the “attendance” figures mean? and What do the “rebellion” figures mean?).
Unfortunately, Policies are restricted to issues that are voted on by division because those are the only decisions that appear on They Vote For You (see Why don’t all decisions made in Parliament appear on They Vote For You?)
How did you decide the degree to which someone supports a policy?
They Vote For You uses rankings like 'strongly' and 'very strongly' to take account of the fact that while our MPs and Senators can only vote Yes or No in any given division (or formal vote), there are several divisions connected to each policy and not all those divisions have the same significance. So, when you connect a division to a policy, you have to select how someone who supported that policy would vote. The options are:
- Yes (Strong)
- No (Strong)
We give the strength option as a way to distinguish between important and less important votes. For example, for our marriage equality policy, a vote to pass a bill that would legalise same-sex marriage is clearly an important vote and so worth the "strong" marker. But a vote on recognising that it's the National Year of Action on Marriage Equality is less important since it doesn't actually change anything and is simply an awareness raising exercise. Both these votes relate to the policy and so have been connected to it, but with different levels of significance.
For an MP or Senator to be marked as "voted very strongly for" a particular policy, they need to have almost always voted in a way that supports the policy (they may have voted against it once or twice, but usually only in a less important vote) and they need to have been present for almost every vote (too many absences will count against them and may even push them into the "voted against" categories since in our Parliament, not voting ultimately has the same effect as voting against something).
If you click into one of your representatives' voting cards and click on a particular policy, we have an explanation of exactly how their voting position is worked out near the bottom of the page. For example, see how Senator Penny Wong votes on marriage equality and scroll down to the heading "How "voted moderately for" is worked out".
There are thousands of Divisions on They Vote For You. There are bound to be some we haven’t yet connected to Policies. You can help improve the accuracy of They Vote For You by finding and classifing more Divisions for the Policies you care about:
Once a Division is connected to a Policy, They Vote For You uses each person’s vote to calculate a where they stand compared to how a supporter would have voted. You can easily see these details and get a technical explanation by clicking through to an individual person on a Policy’s page.
What are “Rebel Voters”?
Currently in the Australian Federal Parliament MPs and Senators nearly always vote along party lines.
Labor party members are not allowed to rebel. In the Liberal party backbenchers are officially allowed to rebel but this is becoming increasingly uncommon in practise.
For more on the rules of the different political parties around rebellions see this 2002 Issues Brief from the Parliamentary library "Free Votes in Australian and some Overseas Parliaments"
What is a “Free Vote”?
In contrast to a rebel vote, a free vote (also known as a conscience vote) occurs when MPs or Senators are not obliged to vote with their party. Free votes are rare. For example, between 1950 and 2007 only 32 free votes took place. More recently in 2012 and 2013, the legislation related to same sex marriage was decided by a free vote.
Unbelievably there is no official record of free votes nor of the party whips. We base our list of known free votes on Parliamentary library research and media reports. It is possible that there are free votes which neither we nor the general public know about because whether a vote is whipped or not is never published.
Note that we use the term free vote over the more common "conscience vote" as it is a more accurate term. In a free vote people are freed from the discipline of the party whip so they can better do their job of representing the views of their electorates.
Also, it's possible for there to be free votes that are not on "matters of conscience".
What do the "attendance" figures mean?
"Attendance" figures record the politicians who vote in any given division.
There are several reasons why a politician may have low attendance figures. For example, they may have abstained, have ministerial or other duties or they may be the speaker.
People that “pair” are also shown as absent. Pairing is an informal arrangement between parties that allows a person that is absent to have their vote cancelled out by someone who was planning to vote the other way also agreeing to be absent for the vote.
We have no way of telling the difference between someone that was not in parliament on the day, was busy with other duties in parliament and someone who actively abstained (e.g. by running out of the chamber as the division is called) because this is not officially recorded anywhere. In future when this is recorded we will show it to you.
What do the "rebellion" figures mean?
"Rebellion" figures record the number of rebel votes (see What are “Rebel Voters”?).
What happens if a division is tied?
In the House of Representatives, the Speaker does not vote unless the result is a tie, in which case the Speaker has the casting vote to decide the matter. Speakers are expected to cast their vote according to a set of principles but these have not always been applied consistently (of course!).
There are also rare cases where the Speaker has not exercised a casting vote. For example when a vote that requires an absolute majority is tied, the Speaker’s casting vote may not acheive an absolute majority so there’s no reason for them to excise that vote.
In the Senate, the President of the Senate may always vote along with other senators so they do not have a casting vote. If a vote in the Senate is tied it is considered to have failed because a majority vote has not been reached.