Newsletter of the Proportional
Representation Society of
QN1996B June 1996 www.prsa.org.au
Clashes this year between the majority of Australia's senators and the majority of its MHRs, in voting on certain bills, have led to much use of the term mandate.
Supporters of the governing Coalition parties claim that, because the Coalition gained nearly 64% of the seats in the House of Representatives and thereby provides the Executive Government, the Coalition has a mandate to have bills to implement policies it campaigned on at the March election passed by the Senate, where it lacks a majority. Those supporters do not mention that the Coalition gained 64% of the seats despite 53.2% of the first preference votes cast for that House being for candidates other than Coalition candidates. In the Senate, the coalition gained a minority of the vote and, under proportional representation, therefore gained only a minority of the seats. Except for money bills, the Senate's legislative powers are, under the Constitution, of equal validity to that of the Lower House.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines mandate as
"[after French mandat] political authority supposed to be given by electors to (party in) parliament".
The word supposed is appropriate in that definition, as the word mandate does not appear in the Constitution at all, and is certainly not a consideration that any member of the Parliament is required to pay any formal or legal attention to. The Constitution requires that laws are passed by a majority of members present in both Houses voting as they see fit.
MPs have for some time chosen to belong to parties and vote as they decide, but at any time they are free to adhere to or disagree with the party's majority view knowing that voting against their party can lead to their being expelled or disendorsed from their party, but not from the Parliament.
National President, Bogey Musidlak, has set December 1997 as the goal for completing a major revision of the PRSA's Proportional Representation Manual, our authoritative publication on the details of counting PR elections, and for preparing a range of materials suitable for PR inquirers.
He will write soon to individual Branches about these and related matters. People that can make prompt contributions to pursuing an extensive workload are asked to contact him as soon as possible. Contact details are shown on Page 4.
Informal voting ranged from 2.5% in the ACT (14 candidates) to 3.8% in NSW (63 candidates). As in 1993, just 5.6% of voters (over 600,000) marked at least 90% of the squares below the line in casting a formal vote. There were slight increases in NSW, WA, SA, and the ACT, and a large one in Tasmania (from 21.1% to 27.4%), where Australian Democrat Senator Robert Bell narrowly lost his place to Tasmanian Green Dr Bob Brown.
The table below shows the close relationship between percentages of votes and seats for successful parties. It separately aggregates the votes for the different Coalition arrangements and Green groups.
Section 15 of the Constitution is, at slightly above 830 words, easily the longest section, yet it still has serious loopholes. It was seen this year to again be open to quite unacceptable manipulation. Before nominations closed for the March 1996 poll, Tasmania's Senator Brian Harradine, whose term expires on 30th June 1999, public-spiritedly revealed the possibility that it could advantage his cause if he were to resign before nominations closed. He could then nominate, to take his seat until June 1999, any willing Australian citizen that was not disqualified. Senator Harradine would then be free to stand for the Senate. His personal support in Tasmania is strong enough that he would be expected to be elected. His term would then end in June 2002. This ploy could have gained him an ally in the Senate, an extra three years of office, and possibly help head off a candidate he disapproved of, Dr Bob Brown. Senator Harradine honourably resisted the temptation, and Dr Brown was elected for a 6-year term beginning on 1st July 1996.
over possibilities that might arise in the case
of the disputed election of a South Australian
Liberal senator has again led to concerns about
the looseness of Section 15.
Claims that Senator-elect Jeannie Ferris, due to
take office on 1st July 1996, was disqualified
from taking a seat in the Senate, by having held
an office of profit under the Crown after being
elected, have led to suggestions that a person
in such a position need only, after becoming a
senator, resign at an expedient time before the
Senate actually sits and then, having ensured
that the disqualification has ceased, be
nominated to the Senate casual
vacancy created by the
resignation. The opportunities Section 15 gives
parties, incumbents, and governments to scheme,
with blatant disregard of voters' rights and
wishes, is improper and is a blot on the
Australian Constitution. The impending
Constitutional Convention should work to have it
replaced by direct election, using the ballots
already cast for the vacating candidate, i.e.
Tasmanian and ACT style countback.
In May and June of 1996 eleven people occupied seats in the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia without their having been elected to those seats by the people of any State or Territory. A third of the senators from the most populous state, New South Wales, were unelected by the people.
Those eleven members were there filling casual vacancies that had arisen in the Senate. They were able to fill those vacancies without popular election under the provisions of Section 15 of the Constitution. That section fails to provide for the filling of casual vacancies by a countback of the ballot-papers cast at the poll at which the seats were last filled by popular vote, which is the democratic procedure laid down by law in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. Filling casual vacancies by countback is one of the ACT's Hare-Clark provisions that can only be changed by a referendum or a two-thirds majority of the ACT Assembly. The eleven members, the first six listed continuing to sit as unelected members for the next three years and occupying a sixth of the seats in half the states, are:
On 10th June 1996, substantive all-party negotiations began over arrangements for the future government of Northern Ireland, and its relationship with both the Irish and British governments. Those present at the elected plenary forum were required to be able to show their commitment to exclusively peaceful means and to the democratic process.
Levels of party representation at the forum were set by voting on 30th May in 18 constituencies. Each returned five delegates. Crosses were placed alongside party names, and the d'Hondt highest average method allocated the seats. Two additional delegates were given to each of the ten parties obtaining most votes across the whole of Northern Ireland.
Smaller negotiating teams for dealing with individual themes or issues are to be chosen from among these delegates. The British Government has committed itself to giving effect to the outcome, with the proviso that it is endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland at a referendum.
Recently election support, from local to European, for the ten most popular parties ranged from under 0.5% to around 30%. The 1996 turnout was around 64%. Six parties won constituency seats: the Ulster Unionist (28 seats, 24.2% of the vote), Democratic Ulster (22, 18.8%), Social Democratic Labour (19, 21.4%), Sinn Fein (15, 15.5%), Alliance Party (5, 6.5%), and UK Unionist Democratic Party (1, 3.7%).
A closer relationship between seats and votes would be expected had quota-preferential methods been used, because there is a deliberate attempt to maximize effective votes rather than acceptance of the chance effects of averaging formulae. Use of a party list system is regrettable also because Northern Ireland is the part of the United Kingdom that has had the greatest experience with quota-preferential proportional representation - it is, for example, used there in the election of members to the European Parliament.
In March 1996 the first municipal poll in Victoria's history specifically required by legislation to use PR counting was declared. It was for the election of 5 of the 9 councillors for the City of Melbourne, with the whole municipality as a single electorate. The quota was 4334 votes, with 26 003 formal votes. Only one of the 13 candidates, Ivan Deveson, who afterwards was elected Lord Mayor, received a quota of first preference votes. His 8409 votes, which gave a surplus of nearly a quota, assured the election of a colleague that gained only 569 first preferences.
The remaining three successful candidates were those with the next largest number of first preferences after Ivan Deveson - 3998, 3108 and 2615 votes respectively. Among the next two highest vote winners, with 1419 first preference votes, was a PRSA Life Member, Anthony van der Craats, who used part of his prime time on ABC radio to explain and commend the PR electoral system. The councillor elected Deputy Lord Mayor was also one of the five councillors elected by PR.
Former PRSA National Secretary, Andrew Gunter, is to be congratulated for having been elected recently, under the proportional representation electoral system used for NSW municipal elections, to North Sydney City Council.
One week before the 1996 Federal elections, the Tasmanian Liberal Government lost its Assembly majority. A strong resurgence in the Labor vote (the ALP's record low in 1992 would have seen it virtually wiped out under any single-member-electorate system) brought that party additional seats in Braddon and Lyons in place of Liberals, and in Bass at the expense of a Tasmanian Green. In addition, the former Liberal MHR Bruce Goodluck was elected as an Independent in Franklin, reducing the Liberal Party to just two elected members in a Division for the first time since 1972.
Tasmania's Assembly is unique among our bicameral Parliaments in that it is the only one that does not have a conjoint election with its Upper House. This has the feature that voters can decide their Upper House vote in the knowledge of the result in the Lower House.
The table below shows the close correspondence between votes and seats that has normally been a feature of Tasmanian elections. Labor's vote ranged from 34.4% in Braddon to 45.4% in Denison, and was not enough for a majority of seats in any Division, whereas Liberals won majorities with first preference votes of 47.7% in Bass and 49.6% in Braddon. Support for the Tasmanian Greens was highest in Denison (14.0%) and lowest in Braddon (9.1%).
In all, 158 candidates stood, from 27 in Bass to 34 in Braddon. The National Party's 18 candidates, and a new party highlighting MPs' 40% pay increase, helped give a 17% increase over the previous 1992 record. After years of standing only as many candidates as there are vacancies, the ALP reverted to 8 candidates in all divisions except Lyons.
The informal vote returned from 4.6% in 1992 to the 5.4% level of 1989. It ranged from a 5.2% low in Denison and Franklin to 5.7% in Bass, where the candidates were fewest. Overall, 65.9% of voters had their first preference effective, from 59.9% in Franklin to 71.7% in Denison. Unlike Senate elections, nine candidates, one or two in each division, were elected on first preferences, and none were elected from the distribution of those surpluses. Between 14 and 25 candidates were excluded before the next MHA was elected. Eight candidates, one or two in each division, were elected without a full quota, 11.2% being the lowest final progress total for a successful one. Elected candidates with fewest first preferences had between 3.6% (Lyons) and 6.5% (Denison).
A 36-vote lead by Liberal MHA Tony Benneworth over Tasmanian Green MHA Lance Armstrong for the final Bass seat followed an historic recount by the State Electoral Office, after an initial 5-vote lead by Benneworth. Just 15 votes separated Liberals Ron Cornish and Carole Cains in Braddon when one was excluded near the end of the scrutiny. Narrow margins determined the final places in Lyons (381 vote gap - two Liberals in contention) and Braddon (Green Di Hollister again beating Labor - this time by 391 votes).
with the thirty-five members in the House of
Assembly just after the 1992 election, there are
eleven new faces. The countback replacements for
former Liberal Premier Robin Gray and Tasmanian
Greens Bob Brown and Gerry Bates each stood and
each was elected. One sitting MHA retired and
seven were defeated (four were defeated by
colleagues from their own party, one having
become an MHA on countback as the replacement
for ALP member Michael Aird: another lost his
deposit this time).
On 25th May 1996, three months after a General Election filled the House of Assembly's 35 seats for a term of up to four years, periodic elections, as prescribed by Tasmania's Constitution Act 1934, were held to fill, for fixed six-year terms, those three of the 19 Legislative Council divisions that had been the longest without an election.
The vagaries of these single-member contests are illustrated by the following summary of the last 30 years of the regular elections for these three Legislative Council divisions. The columns headed "No." show the number of candidates at each election, which vary from 1 to 13. Three consecutive elections in Huon were uncontested, yet Cornwall and Mersey on one occasion had elections with at least 12 candidates, with a Cornwall candidate being elected with only 16% of the first preference (FP) vote.
* Winner was the retiring member seeking re-election.
~ Winner defeated the retiring member seeking re-election.
? Retiring member did not seek re-election.
Informal voting (at least three preferences are required) ranged from 2.0% in Cornwall to 3.7% in Huon, and the turnout ranged
from 83.9 to 87.7% in the same Divisions.
With advice that transitional arrangements for elections under new Legislative Council boundaries must be finalized by 30th June 1996 to avoid constitutional difficulties, the nature of the electoral system has again come into question. Speaking at an ALP State Council meeting on 8th June, the State Labor Leader, Mr Michael Field, called for an end to the rotational nature of Upper House elections. His Party's move in the Council to have all 19 single-member Upper House divisions contested next May, (and perhaps every six years thereafter) failed.
More fairly, Tasmanian Greens policy has been to support the use of Hare-Clark on a Statewide franchise, along the lines recommended by the Morling Inquiry in 1994. With a possibility of a major impasse between the two Houses, some Council Members threatened not to deal with Supply in that event.
On final figures, with 38.75% of the national first preference votes, the ALP gained 33.1% of the seats, while the Liberal Party won 50.7% of the seats with 38.69% of first preference votes. The National Party gained 12.8% of the seats for 8.21% of the vote. The Australian Democrats gained 6.76% of first preferences, but won no seats.
Setting aside the five seats won by Independents, the relationship between two-party preferred votes, actual seats and cube rule seats was as in the table below. If party support follows a Normal distribution, seats won by two dominant groups can be expected to lie roughly in proportion to the cubes of two-party preferred voter support. The actual distortions in Australia are usually much greater because of the bunching of very safe seats for all parties that gain parliamentary representation.
©1996 Proportional Representation Society of Australia
National President: Bogey Musidlak
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