Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia


QN1997D                 December 1997                  www.prsa.org.au



Controversial Restructure of the Tasmanian Parliament Stalemated?


Neither a referendum nor even a plebiscite on the composition of the Tasmanian Parliament took place on 29th November 1997. Opinion polls showed support for the Liberal Party plummeting to around 30%. Commentators said the backlash arose because of the Liberals' failure to achieve major reforms they had talked up throughout 1997.

The proposal in the Government's referendum legislation that the Executive, voting as a bloc, be given an additional vote to break deadlocks attracted much criticism. The Mercury, in Hobart, called it a 'cause for disquiet', and suggested it would be better to avoid a hung Parliament in the first place. Nevertheless, the favoured option of a unicameral legislature composed of members elected from 4 seven-member electorates and 12 single-member electorates remained intact. Labor and the Greens combined to pass two significant amendments: a sitting of the Parliament must occur before the Governor could order Statewide distribution of preferences to establish who would govern, and a unicameral parliament could only amend Standing Orders by a two-thirds majority.

In late September, the Upper House voted 16-2 to split the legislation into two Bills, one to conduct the referendum and another giving the basic model proposed. By a 10-8 majority, including Hon. Tony Fisher, Leader for the Government, it insisted that any referendum be held at the next election. It declined to deal with referendum arrangements or relative powers of the Houses until the basic model was agreed.

PRSA President Bogey Musidlak wrote to all MHAs and MLCs at that time, stressing the Society's long-standing interest in the Hare-Clark system, which occupies the pinnacle of democracy. He summarized the Society's 1994 submission to the Morling Inquiry, which called for an odd number of vacancies in each of five electorates, and for the Hare-Clark system to replace the current periodic elections for the Council held in single-member electorates.

Mr Musidlak said that whenever the people clearly favoured one party governing, the seven-member Hare-Clark system had unambiguously produced majority government rule, on 7 of 11 occasions. Any problem of minority governments would not be solved by regularly creating lop-sided Parliaments, as would happen under any proposal incorporating single-member electorates. The Mercury printed a letter on that theme in October.

He also stressed the greater ability to accurately differentiate between levels of party support when there were more vacancies, and the incentives this gave all parties to do better in their strongest and weakest areas. He urged the Council to adopt a circuit-breaking constructive approach by adopting Hare-Clark for its own procedures rather than risk fuelling public dissatisfaction because of any perceived obstructionism. He said that worthwhile savings could be achieved by cutting back on the number of Ministers and the extent of their entourages.

Following the Council's moves, Labor Party leader Jim Bacon stressed that the reduction to 40 MPs was his only non-negotiable point: Labor would support 5 five-member electorates and 15 single-member electorates in a unicameral or bicameral legislature. Former Premier Robin Gray later came out in favour of that model. Mr Bacon called for an election if the Government proved incapable of delivering reforms, and has been pursuing that theme regularly since October.

The Government countered by introducing into the Council on 1st October its Parliamentary Reform Bill to test whether those calling for cuts in the number of MPs were 'genuine'. That Bill provided for 4 seven-member electorates in the Assembly and 15 single-member Council electorates continuing to be filled periodically. Speculation has since erupted several times that some Government MPs would cross the floor to support the Council proposal and thereby make it harder for Greens to be elected (in that event a no-confidence motion from the Greens was expected), but that has come to nothing, despite much pressure. Late in October, the Liberal Party reversed a policy of some 50 years standing by deciding to endorse candidates at future Legislative Council elections.

In mid-October, The Mercury was commenting that the 'parliamentarians have become bogged down in political self-interest'. Barry Prismall in The Examiner called developments a 'routine battle for power, not a reform agenda'. Jim Playsted, of the Save Our State group calling for majority government, released a paper by the late Dr George Howatt and Tasmania's former Chief Electoral Officer, Colin Ball, advocating 3 nine-member Assembly districts (with all ninth seats going to the party with the highest Statewide vote), and 3 five-member Council districts.

In November many letters in The Mercury said the Council had escaped proper scrutiny of its own electoral system and behaviour in dealing with the reform legislation. A new community-based group, Save Tasmania's Democracy, was formed to 'protect Tasmania's world-renowned democracy, which relies on the integrity of the Hare-Clark system'.

A wide-ranging no-confidence motion in the Liberal Government on 11th November failed when the Tasmanian Greens walked out of the House of Assembly, having earlier written without effect to both party leaders about their intentions in relation to specific forest areas. The Greens have said that Parliament's size should only be altered by referendum, and that they will only support no-confidence or censure motions that they move themselves.

Although in November the Premier, Tony Rundle, stated his intention to 'focus on issues more likely to produce a result', the Government's Bill for a 28-member Assembly was re-introduced on 2nd December. Advice from the Tasmanian Electoral Office that 4 seven-member electorates were more likely to produce majority governments than 5 five-member electorates was also released, prompting renewed hopes by some people that some MLCs would change their minds.



New Bill Should Now Make a PR Poll Possible in any Victorian Municipality


A new Victorian Bill includes provisions, for the first time ever in Victoria, to have municipal councillors elected, as a regular process, and not just for a specific occasion, by the quota-preferential form of proportional representation, under legislation that explicitly refers to that form of PR.

The recently introduced Local Government (Miscellaneous Amendment) Bill 1997, to amend Victoria's Local Government Act 1989, would allow the Government, by an Order-in-Council published in the Victoria Government Gazette, to restructure a municipal council so that it has a defined number of its councillors, which may be all or just some of them, elected as a group from the entire municipal district. That would enable the present mixture of PR and single-member wards used in the City of Melbourne to be required in any other Victorian council, and it would go further in allowing an Order for all councillors to be elected 'at large'.

The Bill provides that the above Order-in-Council may specify that the votes cast shall be counted under Part 4A of Schedule 3 of Victoria's Local Government Act 1989, which prescribes full details of how a quota-preferential proportional representation count is to be conducted, but unfortunately the Bill also provides that if Part 4A is not specified in the Order, Part 4 shall be used instead. That is unfortunate because Part 4 sets out how a multiple majority-preferential count, a winner-take-all system like that used for Senate elections from 1919-48, is to proceed.

There is no doubt that this enlarging of the possibilities of the use of quota-preferential PR is a very positive and welcome step forward for Victoria. It is regrettable that the discredited pre-war Senate system, which is still used by some Victorian councils, has been allowed to linger on, but at least there is now a competitive PR option available, which was not generally available prior to this Bill.

A Bill passed by the Lower House during the last period of ALP Government in Victoria contained a PR option for Councils, chosen by each Council rather than by the Government, but the Legislative Council, which the ALP did not control, deleted that PR aspect.

A further valid criticism of the new Bill is the selective nature of arrangements. Individual councils can be specified as being subject in whole or part to PR elections, whereas other councils can be left solely with single-member or multi-member wards elected on a winner-take-all basis, or even with the whole council elected from the municipal district as a whole on that basis. It has been unkindly suggested that the only councils that will be restructured to incorporate a PR component will be councils that have a solid anti-government flavour under their present winner-take-all basis, and that PR will be used to dilute that flavour with a pro-government minority. That suggestion predicts that councils that are presently pro-government are unlikely to be diluted by PR.

Despite those possibilities, the PRSA's Victorian Branch supports even a few more councils using PR, as it should undoubtedly benefit those councils that use it. Councils not using it will not be as representative of their electors as they should be, and will perform less well as a result.

Another shortcoming of the Bill is the continuation of the failure, first evident when PR was introduced for the City of Melbourne alone, to have a procedure for filling casual vacancies that is appropriate to a PR system. Until such a procedure is introduced, the fall-back provisions of the Local Government Act 1989, which require a by-election poll over the same district as the vacating councillor was elected for, apply.

A period of uncertainty was ended in late November 1997 when it was decided to hold a postal ballot of the entire municipal district of the City of Melbourne to fill the vacancy created by the first resignation of one of the councillors that were elected at the inaugural PR election, over the whole municipal district. As indicated in the preceding article, Victoria lacks the swift, convenient, direct, and economical, countback system for filling such vacancies, in a way that maintains the proportionality provided by the original election. Attempts to persuade the State Government to remedy that legislative deficiency have so far failed, but are continuing, with some prospect that countback could one day apply.

The cost of this municipal-wide ballot is likely to be not much less than the cost of electing the original five councillors for a full three-year term, although only a single casual vacancy is being filled. The inconvenience to voters is also similar. The remainder of the original 3-year term is about 1 year. Any remainder longer than three months requires a poll.



Attempt to Alter Robson Rotation: ACT Branch Exposes its Flaws


Of the seventeen successful Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly candidates in 1995, thirteen obtained over half a quota of votes at or near the start of the scrutiny. In the absence of very adverse preference flows their election was never in any real doubt. Eleven candidates received over 4,000 first preferences, and two others were close to achieving a quota once surpluses from their party leaders were distributed. Only one MLA can be said to have materially benefited from down-the-column flows from excluded party colleagues.

In his 1996 review of how well the legislation had worked, the ACT Electoral Commissioner noted that where candidates with relatively few votes were excluded, those votes tended to be transferred predominantly to the continuing candidate highest in the column when they were at the top. That is, most of their first preferences were actually votes purely for the party. Education to encourage more voters to make a deliberative choice among candidates was proposed as the most appropriate remedy.

Robson Rotation shares out the first preferences of the purely party vote. It keeps any advantage one candidate might obtain from appearing above another to a minimum, but in its elegant and practical simplicity cannot ensure equal flows of down-the-column preferences at every exclusion. No simple modification will achieve such universal even-handedness. In May 1997, the ACT Greens circulated a paper claiming that 20% and more of first preferences went straight down party columns in 1995, and expressing concern that in the absence of election-day how-to-vote cards at polling places in February 1998, more candidates might owe their election primarily to the luck of down-the-column preference flows. The paper proposed that, for each current column listing, an additional rotation be created by completely reversing the order of names below that of the top candidate. It claimed that all candidates would thereby be treated fairly at an exclusion, without much additional ballot-paper printing complexity, and without any adverse side-effects.

The PRSA's ACT Branch detected a major flaw in the proposal. Quite often 3 candidates of the same party vie for a single position. Robson Rotation never places at immediate risk the one with the highest progress total when a fourth is excluded. The proposed change could easily do so, if progress totals were close together and the second and third candidates in the poll split the advantage from the fourth's down-the-column vote.

The ACT Branch, alerted that ACT Greens MLA, Kerrie Tucker, might move amendments to Robson Rotation (to succeed, they would require, because Robson Rotation is entrenched, a two-thirds majority vote of the Assembly, or a majority of electors at a referendum), undertook further detailed research, documenting numerous flaws in the methodology that led to inflated claims of the extent of down-the-column voting. Excerpts, including numerical examples, were despatched to all other parties and independents. Some MLAs were contacted personally in November.

After holding out high public hopes of being able to alter Robson Rotation, in the end Ms Tucker did not bring her amendments on for debate when it became clear that no-one else was likely to support them. While this matter might come before the next Assembly, the episode illustrates the importance of Branches researching proposals in a timely manner, and feeding results into the political process. It also underlines how the entrenchment of key aspects of the Hare-Clark system prevents significant changes from being made lightly.


Australia's Record 15 Unelected Senators - 20% of the Senate


Section 7 of the Australian Constitution requires that senators be 'directly chosen by the people of the State', but that does not apply to Senate casual vacancies which, under Section 15, are filled by the State Parliament or Governor-in-Council, with no requirement for the people's direct involvement. This has led to an ever-growing number of Upper House MPs that can sit for up to almost 6 years without ever having had to face the voters. The number of such people has, as the table and graph below shows, ballooned out to a record 15 now - 20% of the House.

For nearly 80 years Tasmania's Hare-Clark system has very satisfactorily filled casual vacancies by countback - the Electoral Office recount of the quota of votes that elected the vacating MP (or ultimate predecessor at the general election) - to determine which one of the consenting candidates receives, after distribution of preferences if needed, an absolute majority of the next available preferences of the vacating candidate, followed by the declaration of that majority candidate as the replacement MP. Countback gives direct election by the voters, is quick and inexpensive, and could easily be used to fill Senate casual vacancies to save Parliament the ignominy of having so many unelected MPs.

Vacating Senator (Elected by the People)

Substitute Senator (Unelected by the People)



Date Sworn in as a Senator (Unelected by the People)

Years Able to Sit in the Senate Unelected








J.Ferris #

















J.Panizza *






























O.Zakharov *





































Unelected MPs, shown in bold type, do not face election at next half-Senate poll.
# Chosen by the SA Parliament to fill a casual vacancy caused by her resignation.
* Senators Panizza and Zakharov died in office.


National Office-bearers for 1998-99


The Returning Officer for the recent elections of PRSA National Office-bearers, Mrs Nancye Yeates, has declared the candidates below elected unopposed to the following positions in the Society from 1st January 1998 to 31st December 1999:


National President:                    Mr Bogey Musidlak

National Vice-President:           Mr Geoffrey Goode

National Secretary:                   Mr Deane Crabb

National Treasurer:                   Mr Robert Forster


Irish Elections Respect Voters' Wishes


On 6th June 1997, quota-preferential elections, a requirement for which is entrenched in the national constitution, were held for the Dail, the legislature of Eire. Voters could choose how many preferences they marked on the single list of candidates in each multi-member constituency. The 166 successful candidates officially took up their duties as representatives two days later.

Following re-arrangements of boundaries in Counties Mayo and Kildare, there were 14 five-member, 15 four-member and 12 three-member constituencies. As is to be expected when proportional representation using the single transferable vote applies, for parties attracting moderate support, levels of votes and representation remained very close together as illustrated in the table below. The two largest parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, obtained just over two-thirds of the vote between them, and neither was able to form a government in its own right.

Former Opposition Leader, Bernie Ahern, became the new Taoiseach, replacing John Bruton of the Fine Gael Party. His Deputy is Mary Harney, leader of the Progressive Democrats, one of the twenty women to be elected. The Labour Party suffered a major slump in support after unexpectedly going into a coalition government with Fianna Fail immediately after the last election. Seven Independents were elected.



Seats won

Percent of seats won (%)

Votes per seat

Fianna Fail





Fine Gael










Progressive Democrats





Democratic Left





Green Party










Seeking quotas from 16.7% to 25%, the parties leave it to their supporters' judgement to rank nominated candidates in their own order. Just 27 of the 166 successful candidates (about 16%) were elected on first preferences. In Australia up to three times that percentage would be expected. That is a consequence of the registered Group Voting Tickets used around Australia. The much greater spread in Irish voting means that parties there whose first preference vote is well below a quota usually cannot expect to build up a quota with votes transferred from a larger party, in the way the Western Australian Greens and others have - a phenomenon much complained about by Australia's large parties, but mainly attributable to those parties' obsession with structuring electoral laws so that their supporters concentrate their vote almost entirely on the candidate the parties rank first on their Group Voting Ticket.

Fianna Fail obtained exactly half the seats in the four-member electorates, where 40% is enough to secure two places. In the constituencies with three or five members, where obtaining majority support matters, its votes and seats were much closer together.


PRSA Members Assist Scrutinies


After a trial period in the inner northern suburbs since 1995, Local Area Planning Advisory Committees in the Australian Capital Territory were extended to the inner south and Belconnen areas. Satisfied with the original conduct of scrutinies (QN79) and several subsequent countbacks to fill casual vacancies, Planning and Land Management again asked the PRSA's ACT Branch to conduct quota-preferential scrutinies for one, two or three vacancies on the nights of public meetings in all three areas. Members attended as required in July, September and October, making outcomes known promptly on each occasion, and thereby reinforcing a positive public presence.


The PRSA's Victorian Branch provided similar assistance to count some 2800 quota-preferential ballots in November 1997 to fill one-third of the vacancies on the Council of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).



Novel System for Electing Directors


One of Australia's largest public companies, Coles Myer Ltd., notified its shareholders of a change to its articles of incorporation, proposed for adoption at its 1997 Annual Meeting recently, that would change its hitherto conventional method of electing directors to its Board. Coles Myer has previously used a standard system whose use by the BHP Co. Ltd. was analysed in QN80.

The new system complies with one of the few rudimentary electoral requirements in the Corporations Law by letting voters register a vote for or against each candidate, and specifying that no candidate can be elected unless a majority of votes is in favour of that candidate being elected. The new system proposes to overcome a manifest unfairness and manipulation of the standard system, which normally sees the retiring directors put to the vote first, thus usually leaving no more vacancies to be filled, and therefore leaving untested the question of whether voters might prefer new candidates rather than those retiring directors.

Under the new system the voters can vote for or against each of the candidates. If more candidates than there are vacancies receive a majority of votes, the successful candidates will be those receiving the greatest number of votes. This blending of aspects of a majority system and a first-past-the-post system has obvious disadvantages in that it prioritizes candidates on the faulty first-past-the-post basis, but it is an interesting attempt by a major corporation to move away from the obvious sham of the standard company system, where the prioritization is supplied, not by the voters, but by the company people that decide the order in which candidates are put to the vote, even though the meeting could, in theory, change that. Changes to the Corporations Law are needed if quota-preferential PR is to be used for company polls, and they might even be needed if any form of preferential voting the obvious necessary reform is to be introduced.


National President:  Bogey Musidlak
14 Strzelecki Crescent  NARRABUNDAH ACT 2604
National Secretary:  Deane Crabb
11 Yapinga Street PLYMPTON SA 5038
Telephone: (08) 8297 6441, (06) 295 8137
Editor: info@prsa.org.au
97 Pirie Street ADELAIDE SA 5000