Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia
Over two hundred public meetings were held around Australia Day as part of the Australia Consults program developed by the National Australia Day Council (see www.telstra.com.au/nadc/) and the Australian Local Government Association, with the support of Telstra as principal sponsor. Those attending were invited to discuss appropriate Centenary of Federation celebrations, constitutional reform including possible changes related to the Head of State, and reconciliation between indigenous and other Australians.
ACT Branch Committee Member, Julie McCarron-Benson attended the Canberra forum on Saturday 25th January, taking the opportunity to question both monarchists and republicans about why they were not addressing the more basic issue now facing an educated mature independent nation, the reform of processes for proper democratic representation.
Ms McCarron-Benson called on those present to support the PRSA's efforts to secure the Hare-Clark electoral system for the House of Representatives. In the light of the ACT's positive experience with effective voting already, there were no negative comments. Change of the electoral system to proportional representation was included as an important part of the communique issued at the conclusion of the forum, and forwarded to the National Australia Day Council.
The Honourable Henry Samuel Chapman authored the world's first secret ballot law, for Victoria in 1856, which by combining secrecy with limited vote-tracing, both protected the elector, and detected fraud where election results were in dispute.
Last November, several members of the PRSA's NSW Branch attended a Forum on Electoral Fraud, which was the first major public activity of the newly-formed H S Chapman Society. After a keynote address by Senator Nick Minchin, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, there were sessions exploring the presence and extent of electoral fraud: presentations, often by speakers with past or present Liberal Party affiliations, examined the electoral roll and its integrity or otherwise, fraud and forgery in postal ballots and especially those involving trade unions, and the potential for systematic fraud through rogue computer programming or exploitation of the flurry of unchecked last-minute changes that occur just before the close of the rolls once an election is called.
While commending the speakers on the thoroughness of their investigations, long-time New South Wales Branch member Syd Gilchrist raised the unfortunate absence from their presentations of work on the important fraud of single-member electorates, where perhaps 70% of the seats might be safe for one party or another, leaving voters in those areas virtually disfranchised. Party attention always focuses on the swinging or marginal seats that determine government, and voters in those seats are clearly seen as more valuable than those in safe seats. Mr Gilchrist pointed out that the only way in which democracy would be improved would be through the adoption of quota-preferential methods in electorates largely returning seven or nine members.
The PRSA commends NSW members for their efforts to have fundamental questions addressed by a wider audience that professes concern about electoral fairness.
This year's National Conference of the Australian Democrats held in Canberra in January was structured around academic papers examining the party's role and influence in its first twenty years, to be collated as a book for publication later this year.
PRSA National President Bogey Musidlak attended much of the proceedings. He placed numerous copies of various publications on a literature table being picked over by activists, and ensured that academics present were handed Society submissions and other materials of use to them and their students. When important electoral matters were raised personally with sitting MPs and other prominent figures, much was learnt about strong personal commitments to electoral reform.
Following this experience, a stronger presence by the Proportional Representation Society of Australia can be expected at future academic or political conferences where promotion of effective voting may bear fruit.
The Hon. Winston Peters MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer of New Zealand, has accepted an invitation by the PRSA for him to address members and other interested people on New Zealand's MMP system, and proportional representation in general. Mr Peters will speak to us on Friday 25th July 1997, at 6 p.m. in the Council Chamber at the University of Melbourne. Those proposing to attend, particularly those bringing a prospective member, should inform the Victorian Branch (Fax number on Page 4: other details in Melbourne White Pages).
WA Branch President, John Taplin, begins his report on these general elections by reminding us that WA has a malapportionment, between metropolitan and country electorates, of about 2 to 1 for its 57 single-member Legislative Assembly electorates, and 4 to 1 for its four Legislative Council electorates. Two of those Council electorates elect 5 MLCs and the other two elect 7 MLCs.
*To simplify presentation, adjustments were made for the 2 country
Legislative Council electorates where these parties had a joint ticket.
If malapportionment were a dominant cause of disproportion between seats and votes the largest departure from a value of 1.00 in the Ration column above, for the major parties, should appear in the Council table. Instead it appears in the Assembly table, where the Liberals alone gained an absolute majority of the seats with less than 40% of the vote. The Council table shows the much more proportional result that PR gives, despite the much greater malapportionment for that House.
A most significant referendum should be held in the United Kingdom if the British Labour Party achieves Government as a result of the General Election to be held on 1st May 1997. The following is an extract from the policies of the Labour Party:
“Labour has been keen to ensure wide and informed debate on the future of our electoral system. We are committed in government to holding a referendum on voting systems for the House of Commons.” [http://www.labour.org.uk/policy/ch5.html]
The promised referendum was Labour’s response to those party members and Liberal Democrats that are campaigning for the UK’s deplorable system of single-member electorates with relative majority (first-past-the-post) counting to be replaced by a proportional representation system. It is to be hoped that our fellow society, the Electoral Reform Society of Great Britain and Ireland, will succeed in having quota-preferential PR as one of the referendum options, and that, unlike the case in New Zealand, a preferential ballot will be used in the referendum if there are more than two options.
In Australia the Federal Government has introduced the Constitutional Convention (Election) Bill 1997, which details the proposals for the electoral system for that half of the membership of the Convention that is to be directly elected by the people. There are to be two elected Convention members for each internal Territory (33.3% quota). Each State’s representation is shown below.
The Government is to be greatly commended for proposing that the votes be counted by quota-preferential proportional representation with optional marking of preferences. The next issue of Quota Notes will cover certain unusual aspects of the electoral arrangements.
Two new members were sworn into the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly this year, following the resignations of Ms Rosemary Follett, ALP MLA for Molonglo, who was recently, for nearly seven years, either Chief Minister or Leader of the Opposition; and Mr Tony de Domenico, Liberal MLA for Brindabella and Deputy Chief Minister since the change of government in 1995. Ms Follett stunned party colleagues with her resignation on 13th December 1996 to take up an appointment as the Territory's Discrimination Commissioner later in the month. After the placing of newspaper advertisements on 20th December 1996, six consenting candidates were declared ten days later. Only one of those was from the Australian Labor Party - Simon Corbell, who worked for Fraser MHR John Langmore before the latter's departure to take up a high-level United Nations appointment. In counting that took just under two days, Mr Corbell initially received 78% of Ms Follett's quota (next came exhausted with nearly 7%). He was declared elected without need for exclusions or transfers of ballot-papers.
Mr de Domenico resigned on 30th January 1997 to take up a lucrative private sector position. Applications from defeated candidates were invited the following day, and again six consented before the expiry of the ten-day period, three of them endorsed Liberals, namely Sandie Brooke, Louise Littlewood and Brian Lowe. As Ms Brooke had just married former Leader Trevor Kaine, public speculation was rife in some quarters about what changes the outcome of the countback might bring.
In the event, Ms Littlewood's election was confirmed within two days, albeit by a rather narrow margin of 177 votes over Ms Brooke. Subsequently, Gary Humphries, who had been instrumental in having the key Hare-Clark principles entrenched, was elected unopposed as Deputy Leader of the ACT's parliamentary Liberal Party.
In a published Letter to the Editor of The Canberra Times, ACT Branch Convenor Bogey Musidlak contrasted the timely, straightforward and inexpensive replacement of Mr de Domenico through countback with the costly, and to many, farcical Fraser federal by-election, which had taken place at about the same time. The table below indicates progress totals at key stages of the countback at which the three endorsed Liberals together obtained 89% of Mr de Domenico's quota.
Following Ms Fiona Bucknall's appointment as Equity Officer of the Queensland Branch of the Australian Labor Party late last year, the Convenor of the PRSA's Queensland Branch, Chris Tooley, wrote to offer his congratulations, and to draw attention to the fact that women's parliamentary presence under proportional representation systems tended to be at levels double those achieved under single-member electorate systems.
Replying, Assistant General Secretary Peter Shooter explained that the ALP's "Affirmative Action" rule does not refer to quotas in winnable seats, but seeks to make the system fairer within its constraints. He said that the rule indicated the need to establish a plan to ensure an outcome of 35%, and that this would be achieved through merit in individual preselections.
Mr Shooter conceded that the ALP's holding of only two federal Divisions (both by men) made the situation more problematic, but he said that the Queensland Branch was "committed to achieving an outcome at the next federal election where women are selected to contest the required number of winnable seats to reach our objective".
When the Tasmanian Parliament resumed in March 1997, the continuing impasse over Legislative Council boundaries assumed renewed importance, as Tasmania's Constitution Act 1934 requires periodic Legislative Council elections to be held in May of each year. While new boundaries with 10% enrolment tolerance have been drawn, agreement on transitional provisions has not been reached, and wider questions are being posed about the Legislative Council's current powers. The Tasmanian Electoral Office will not begin to produce rolls for the next election until the Governor issues the writs.
have stressed that the old boundaries will be
used if no agreement is reached. Labor is
seeking an immediate election for the entire
Council (rather than for just three or four
Divisions). The Tasmanian Greens want a future
referendum on various
of the Council's powers and Hare-Clark State-wide as
recommended in December 1994 by Mr Justice Morling
During early January's media silly season, the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's chief executive, Tim Abey, called for scrapping of the Hare-Clark system and even more remarkably, replacing it with first-past-the-post methods in single-member electorates. Labor's John White, one of Denison's seven MHAs, promptly denounced the simplistic idea, but the Liberals' Bob Mainwaring, one of the seven MHAs for Lyons, declared himself in favour of single-member electorates. Later letters in The Mercury strongly supported Hare-Clark.
Whenever anyone expresses frustration at minority government, there needs to be an understanding that, in five of the past eight Tasmanian elections, any system of single-member electorates would have left little or no trace of an Opposition. In such unchecked circumstances, major Government excesses could be expected.
In contrast, Hare-Clark, which always offers all parties fair representation, produces majority governments when voters are convinced that one party's policies and candidates are superior. When voters are not persuaded by Labor or Liberal offerings, from time to time the Assembly itself will act as a brake on the Executive.
ongoing constitutional debate, Hare-Clark
supporters would do well by pushing for the
entrenchment of key principles as was achieved in
the Australian Capital Territory after it had
adopted the Hare-Clark system. That would avert
the prospect of surprise deformations such as the
failed attempt, begun in 1993, to revert to
By-elections in all five wards of South Australia's Port Lincoln Council, each of which has two councillors, received national publicity last year. Nine of the ten ward councillors (the whole municipality elects the Mayor separately) resigned in protest at the Mayor's alleged racist comments and support for Pauline Hanson MHR.
All nine anti-Mayor councillors re-contested the vacancies their resignations had produced, to try to show popular opposition to the Mayor's statements. There was a poll in each ward, but only Boston Ward had enough candidates to let both resigning ward councillors lose - a classic defect of ward systems. Only four of the nine resigning councillors were re-elected. The five newcomers to the Council were pro-Mayor. The result was blamed on the low turnout of only 30%, but the total of 1548 votes (57.3%) for pro-Mayor candidates clearly exceeded the 1155 votes for the anti-Mayor candidates.
system is commonly called bottoms-up. In Australia, it
is peculiar to South Australia, probably because
SA's Electoral Office favours
it, when up to three positions are to be filled.
It is one of the two systems that SA's Local
Government Act allows for municipal elections.
It is officially called optional preferential,
as it allows voters to vote for as few or as
many of the candidates as they wish. That is
perhaps the system's only worthwhile attribute -
one that all electoral systems should include.
Once the first preference votes have been
counted, the candidate with the fewest votes is
excluded and those votes are distributed to the
other candidates. The process continues till the
number of candidates remaining equals the number
of vacancies to be filled, at which point those
candidates are elected
Bottoms-up is claimed to discourage tickets. That is considered important in SA, as political parties do not officially endorse candidates in municipal elections, but that supposed advantage has worked against bottoms-up, as large majorities of votes can be locked up with popular candidates, allowing candidates with minimal support to also be elected. Using at-large PR, four of the original nine councillors would still have been elected, but voters would have had much more choice.
* Asterisk denotes councillor that had resigned on the issue of his or her opposition to the Mayor, and stood for re-election.
Names in bold type are those of the councillors elected.
© 1997 Proportional Representation Society of Australia
National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Crescent NARRABUNDAH ACT 2604
National Secretary: Deane Crabb 11 Yapinga Street PLYMPTON SA 5038
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