Proportional Representation Society of Australia
Direct Election of Candidates
an election have the maximum opportunity to
ensure that their vote is reflected in the
outcome of the election - for a given system of
counting votes - when, along with the use of
proportional representation, all the
representatives to be elected are directly
elected by the voters.
Electoral systems that use, in whole or part, a Party List form of proportional representation, such as all the proportional representation systems for popular elections in Africa, Asia, Latin America, continental Europe, and the "Mixed Member Proportional" system in New Zealand, are not fully direct systems of election, whereas countries whose lower houses have only single-member electoral districts - such as Australia, Canada, UK, USA, and India - or have only multi-member electoral districts with the Single Transferable Vote (quota-preferential) - such as Eire, and Malta - have at least a fully direct system of election.
Elections: Australia has limited
constitutional protection for direct election.
Section 7 of
the Australian Constitution requires that
State senators be "directly chosen by the
people of the State", but Section 122,
which empowers the Federal Parliament to
provide for senators for the territories, has
no requirement for direct election. It would
seem a difficult task for a government to hold
a referendum and persuade a majority of
Australian electors to approve the omission of
the word "directly" from Section 7.
which provides for the filling of Senate casual
vacancies, has required, since a 1977
referendum, that Senate
casual vacancies be filled, not by the
choice of the people, as had in certain cases
previously been the case, but by the appointment,
by the relevant State Parliament, or Governor, if
the Parliament is not in session, of a member of
the same party as that of the vacating senator. Section 24
requires that Members of the House of
Representatives "be directly chosen by the
people", and Section
33 provides for a poll to fill a casual
significant extra word appears in both of the
following two sections of the Australian
Constitution, compared to the wording of the
United States Constitution that they were modelled
on, whereby members of both houses of our Federal
Parliament are required not just to be "chosen by
the people" - as in the U.S. - but to be "directly chosen by the
The Australian Constitution's Section 7, which refers to choosing senators for the Australian States, was modelled on the U.S. Constitution's corresponding wording at the time, but with a prescient anticipation, by 13 years, of Clause 1 of its 17th Amendment.
The Australian Constitution's Section 24, which refers to choosing members of Australia's House of Representatives, was modelled on the corresponding wording of the U.S. Constitution's Article1 Section 2.
That extra word, "directly", appeared in Section 9 of the draft Constitution adopted by the 1891 National Australasian Convention, based largely on the draft by the one person that took the trouble to circulate a suggested draft constitution, one of its Tasmanian members, Andrew Inglis Clark, who was also the instigator of Tasmania's celebrated Hare-Clark electoral system, which is a quota-preferential (Single Transferable Vote) form of proportional representation. Its continuation in Section 7 and extension to Section 24 of our present Constitution has fortunately prevented our Federal Parliament from being empowered to adopt a party list form of PR for either of its houses, but it has not prevented the use of Group Voting Tickets, which corrupt the Senate's PR system, nor has it required the use of countback to fill casual vacancies, as that is controlled by a different section of the Constitution, Section 15.
Nevertheless, only one State, Western Australia, has a similar constitutional prohibition. Party list systems have been proposed, and have operated briefly, in some of our States and Territories, but such systems are fortunately no longer operating in Australia.
Voting Tickets: Australia's
unfortunate introduction in 1983 of Group
Voting Tickets for its Senate
elections did, until they were discontinued
in 2016, greatly increase the tendency for
voters to follow their party's recommended
order of preference for candidates, as it
made it as easy as possible to vote "above-the-line",
while still maintaining unjustifiably
onerous requirements for a valid vote for
independently-minded voters voting "below-the-line"
to mark preferences for nearly all of what
is often scores of candidates.
judge, the then Chief Justice, Sir Harry Gibbs,
wrote in his determination, "In my opinion,
it cannot be said that any disadvantage caused
by the sections of the Act now in question to
candidates who are not
members of parties or groups so offends
democratic principles as to render
the sections beyond the power of the
Parliament to enact." His
cautious wording, highlighted in bold here,
could suggest that he recognized a degree of
offence to democratic principles, which the
PRSA considers does very much exist, but he
declared that it was not a sufficient degree
for the court to declare GVTs invalid. The
applicant, an independent Senate candidate,
represented himself, and did not appeal.
Entrenchment of Direct Elections: In addition to the limited entrenchment of direct election in the Australian Constitution, Western Australia is the only State with a requirement for direct election of its members of Parliament entrenched in its constitution, so that the requirement cannot be repealed without a referendum. See this 1978 provision in Section 73 of Western Australia's Constitution Act 1889 [Section 73(2)(c)].
Systems All Rejected To Date:
Australia has, fortunately, rejected the four major attempts
at introducing or maintaining a Party List form
of proportional representation, as opposed to
STV, ever to emerge here, which were:
Filling Casual Vacancies by Direct Election: It should be noted that the only direct way of proportionally filling casual vacancies after a PR election is by a re-examination of the ballots cast at that election. The countback system used in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, which preserves the intention of the majority of voters who contributed to the quota that elected the vacating candidate, and minimizes the work involved in a manual count, is recommended for this purpose.