Letter published in The Age,
Page 12, on 9th February 1999
(cited at Footnote
50 on Commonwealth Parliament
A matter of thresholds
MPs such as Helen Coonan (Opinion 4/2), campaigning to have the Senate electoral system impose thresholds for election - a proviso additional to the existing quotas - speak of ‘thresholds’, misleadingly linking ‘thresholds’ to the thresholds used in proportional representation systems overseas.
They omit the fact that those thresholds operate quite differently. The “party list” proportional representation systems in Europe, Asia, South America, South Africa and New Zealand concentrate on voters’ choice of party. They lack the transferable preferences that are available in the more voter-empowering systems and that allow direct election of candidates for Australia’s Senate, Eire or Malta.
They have much larger electorates, with more vacancies and much lower quotas than ours. The purpose of “party list” threshold provisos is to discourage party fragmentation and splitting of the vote, which low quotas with lack of transferable votes encourage.
Our high quotas with preferential voting make thresholds unnecessary. “Party list” thresholds for election are a much larger percentage than the quota, which is the minimum vote percentage to elect each candidate. They relate to a party’s entire percentage of the vote.
In contrast the Australian campaign seeks threshold provisos, much lower than the quota, relating to first preference votes only, not total votes. Their purpose is to skew the system in favour of candidates from larger parties.
Larger parties always elect more senators than the smaller parties, but not disproportionately more - yet. This campaign misuses thresholds, and seeks less proportionality.
Geoffrey Goode, vice-president, Proportional
Representation Society of Australia, Beaumaris
Proportional Representation Society of Australia,