Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia
QN1999B June 1999 www.prsa.org.au
Parliamentary Elections Act 1999
this year became one of the very few
Acts of the UK Parliament to have ever
received Royal Assent without it
having been passed by the House of
Lords, however reluctantly. The
Government invoked the Parliament
Act 1911 to advise the Queen to
assent to the Bill. As reported in QN1998B, the Lords’
resolute view that the closed
party list proposal in the Bill lacked a
mandate was fortified by speakers from
the Electoral Reform Society of Great
to elect the Members of the European
Parliament (MEPs) representing the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland held in June 1999 were
the first held under the above Act, and
were thus the first polls when all MEPs
from Great Britain (England, Scotland
and Wales) were indirectly elected (by a
restrictive closed party list PR
system) from multi-member electoral
districts, instead of the previous
direct election using the
unrepresentative single-member district
system with first-past-the-post voting.
On the same day, the MEPs for
Party), 28.4% of first
preference votes; John Hume (MEP, MP and
Assembly member for the Social
Democratic and Labour Party), 28.1%;
and James Nicholson (MEP and Assembly
member for the
A group of
members of the Electoral Reform
Society of Great Britain and
The PRSA has participated positively in quota-preferential PR (Single Transferable Vote) campaigns overseas, such as the first of New Zealand’s two electoral system plebiscites, when our preferred quota-preferential PR (STV) was one of the options, and likewise San Francisco’s recent referendum on PR. Unfortunately it appears that the promised UK referendum might lack such an option, and that is not the fault of the ERS. The PRSA does not involve itself negatively in disputes within fellow overseas societies, but publishes, for the information of PRSA members, the following succinct statement circulated by the above group, which includes a former Chairman of the ERS Council:
"THE CASE AGAINST JENKINS
Reform Society has campaigned
single-mindedly for STV for over a
century. That has been its raison
d'être, based on an awareness of
Many long-standing members believe it would be profoundly wrong to do so, not just out of a fastidious regard for the Society's integrity, but because of the importance of what is at stake. The Society must be true to itself precisely because the political parties, over a long period, have deliberately obscured what is involved. The Jenkins recommendation is a result of that obscurantism. It is based primarily on so-called political realism, i.e. a need to meet the government's wishes, and only partly on the four criteria laid down in its terms of reference. The only institutional voice of significance now in a position to argue that the implementation of the Jenkins recommendation would be a historic mistake, is that of the Society.
The key institution of the British governmental system is the political party. It is a private institution which fills the constitutional vacuum within which the state functions. The accountability of MPs is far greater to their party than it is to their constituents, and the pressure on them to obey the party whip is immense. Thus governments, through their control of party, usurp the authority of parliament.
To justify such arbitrary authority, party has to be more representative of the electorate, not just in the crude sense of seats and votes being proportional, but as a more comprehensive reflection of the attitudes and views of voters at large. To achieve that representativeness voters within a constituency must be able to rank a party's candidates as well as supporting the party. In this way they could 'fine-tune’ party nearer to their liking, a process leading to more representative and prudent government. The Jenkins recommendation guarantees neither proportionality nor fine-tuning. The Commission has missed an historic opportunity.
A final point: no one should be deluded that the Commission's recommendation is a step towards STV. If it is implemented, there will be little chance of further reform in the foreseeable future. Constitutional incrementalism will yet again have pulled off the trick of appearing to meet demands for greater democracy while keeping the polity resolutely undemocratic. The Society must not be seduced by the ‘change at any price’ argument of those who do not appreciate exactly what is at stake."
1998, partly in response to
representations from municipal
councils, the Tasmanian Parliament
amended its Local Government Act
1993 to apply Robson
Rotation to the printing of
ballot-papers in municipal polls.
Local Government Regulations
1994 prescribe the
details. The system has
applied to polls for both of
The Robson Rotation cancels out the effect of ‘donkey voting’. It also ends the undeserved power of groups that print and distribute ‘how-to-vote’ cards, which invite voters to cast their vote in a manner that the group favours, rather than have voters choose their particular order of preference. Without the Robson Rotation it is far too easy for voters to take the line of least resistance, by copying a how-to-vote card and thus helping to hand parties ‘safe seats’ rather than voters deciding and indicating their own preferences among the candidates. Both Houses of Tasmania’s Parliament and, more recently, the ACT’s Legislative Assembly, have greatly benefited from this useful reform.
Earlier this year the South Australian Legislative Assembly passed the Local Government (Elections) Bill 1999, which would discontinue the idiosyncratic ‘bottoms up’ electoral procedure (See QN1998A) that SA municipalities have been able to adopt, up till now, as their only alternative to using quota-preferential proportional representation. Fortunately that quite unsound procedure is used by a diminishing minority of municipalities, and the Legislative Council, which is now examining the Bill, is likely to accept its end.
in the Bill is that it still leaves
the minimum number of vacancies to be
filled at any one poll as one. Hon.
Ian Gilfillan MLC, an Australian
Democrat, proposes that the Bill be
amended to require the minimum number
to be increased to three, to let
quota-preferential counting give
proportional representation of
electors, which is impossible if an
electoral district returns only one
representative. His proposed
amendments also include a requirement
for Robson Rotation in the printing of
all ballot-papers. Its introduction
and recent successful municipal use in
are also moves in the Upper House to
amend the Bill to make postal voting
or attendance at a polling booth
compulsory, which has never applied in
municipal polls in
At the 1998 ACT general elections, there were several close contests within parties for a number of vacancies. For instance, in Molonglo, just over 400 first preference votes separated five of the seven ALP candidates, and in the recount the last two exclusions were determined by margins of 3 and 23 votes respectively. In Brindabella, Liberal Louise Littlewood was excluded when just 45 votes behind her then colleague Trevor Kaine.
While Robson Rotation again performed well overall, it was noticeable that a high proportion (between 35 and 55%) of votes for Liberal and Labor candidates with limited support was obtained straight down the column when they were at the top (this high ‘party-linear’ vote contrasts with the more deliberative patterns under Tasmania’s Hare-Clark system). A consequence was that, when some of these candidates were excluded, their continuing colleague closest to the top of the column, when it was occupied by the person excluded, obtained a much stronger flow of preferences than did others. Even though no defeated candidate cried foul about losing, it was clear that a small number of MLAs could count themselves somewhat lucky to be elected.
In 1997, ACT Greens MLA Kerrie Tucker sought to double the number of rotations by always adding the reverse of the order currently below any top position. For instance if ABCDE was a Robson Rotation column order, AEDCB would be too. Such a scheme would automatically share out the down-the-column or party-linear vote for two-candidate comparisons, but it could introduce anomalies in situations where three or more candidates were vying closely for elected positions. Front-runners might be excluded in some cases just because others shared the party-linear vote.
At the time, the PRSA’s ACT Branch therefore urged MLAs not to amend the entrenched original rotations (it would require two-thirds of them to make a change). This stand was vindicated in 1998 because the second ALP candidate to be excluded under the operation of the Robson Rotation would have been elected in Molonglo under such revised arrangements because of the times at which he would have received flows of party-linear votes.
In December 1998, when ACT Electoral Commissioner Phil Green published detailed figures about the extent of party-linear voting in his review of the operation of the ACT’s electoral legislation, he suggested that the number of rotations be significantly increased by letting each colleague appear in the second spot when someone was at the top of a column. Instead of column orders matching candidate numbers, for five and seven candidates there would now be 20 (5x4) and 42 (7x6) orders respectively.
New printing techniques direct from disc made that technologically feasible. Hon. Neil Robson has said that he had devised a more elaborate system of rotation in the 1970s, but was persuaded to simplify it for ease of printing.
Independently of those efforts, in March 1998 the Canberra Branch of the Statistical Society of Australia undertook a project to seek to eliminate chance effects from the operation of Robson Rotation. In December, sampling specialist Dr Ken Brewer circulated an alternative proposal based on known optimal properties of 4x4 and 6x6 Latin Squares (arrays where each number appears just once in each row and column). [www.ozemail.com.au/~ssacanb] He showed that under his proposal the advantage to any candidate when it was not possible to share out the next-best places perfectly evenly (for instance, if there are 42 column orders and four continuing candidates, they cannot all obtain an advantage from the same number of columns) was minimized.
Deputy Chief Minister Gary Humphries announced the Government’s in-principle support for additional rotations in February, and the PRSA’s ACT Branch also obtained publicity for its endorsement of improvements that did not also create new anomalies. Since that time, Dr Brewer and the Electoral Commissioner have extended their ideas. The Select Committee on the Report of the Review of Governance, chaired by Independent MLA Paul Osborne and comprising also Liberal Speaker Greg Cornwell and Labor Opposition Leader Jon Stanhope, reported unanimously in June 1999 that there should be additional rotations, and that the maximum number of candidates in any column should be reduced from the current twelve.
From an individual voter’s viewpoint, such changes would make no difference at the poll, but candidates lacking sufficient support to be certain of election should appreciate differences in flows of preferences from excluded colleagues reflecting just the considered wishes of voters.
pleasing to see the ALP’s apparent
endorsement of such changes, after
accepting recommendations of Michael
The report to fellow members by these two ‘external’ reviewers of the ALP’s dismal 1998 electoral showing said ‘because the Federal seats are not marginal seats, the sub-branches do not have a marginal seat campaigning culture’. It recommended an ongoing close relationship between the ACT and Tasmanian Branches ‘to exchange Hare-Clark campaigning expertise’, and against urging ALP voters to follow a recommended order for numbering candidates.
The Osborne Select Committee quoted from the ACT Branch’s submissions when it made other recommendations disagreeing with some of the less satisfactory aspects of the Pettit Review. For instance, all said that the Assembly should not automatically increase with population, and a majority indicated that on balance there were no current grounds for an increase in Assembly numbers from 17 to 21. A different majority rejected calls for the reintroduction of how-to-vote cards on election day.
The Committee also took up the ACT Branch’s suggestion that the Electoral Commission devote considerably more resources to explaining the mechanics of preferential voting to help many more voters realize the implications of curtailing the number of preferences they indicate. Another long-standing concern of the ACT Branch was addressed when the Committee agreed with the Electoral Commissioner’s proposals to tighten party registration procedures to deny sitting MLAs sham structures.
The 18 months that the Review of self-government has taken has seen ill-thought-out proposals largely fall by the wayside. Improvements in the rotation of names on the ballot-paper are now likely. This shows the importance of maintaining ongoing contact with the political process, making constructive suggestions, and clearly stating why particular defective ideas should not be entertained.
Mr Leonard Higgs has retired as Treasurer of the PRSA’s South Australian Branch (the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia - founded in 1930) after having held that position continuously, and with distinction, since 1940 – a period of 59 years, possibly a record term of office for any Branch. Len remains a keen member of the SA Branch. Len went on to very ably serve the Society as its National Treasurer as well, for the ten years from 1986 to 1995. Len was elected an Honorary Life Member of the SA Branch at its special meeting held in 1990 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the world’s first public PR election - that for Adelaide City Council in 1840 (QN60).
greatly appreciates Len’s long
service, and is very grateful for all
he has done. Few of us have witnessed
the improvements that Len has:
representation introduced for the
Senate in 1948, then PR for not only
his own State’s Legislative Council,
but also later for that of NSW and
then that of WA, and then PR for the
ACT Legislative Assembly. He has also
seen PR introduced for local
government in NSW, then SA, then for
He has also shared in the success of our PR movement, in the cases where party list PR was originally proposed (NSW) or introduced (SA and ACT), in having that inferior party list approach replaced with the quota-preferential principle. Like all of us, he remains watchful as current attempts to tamper with the Senate’s PR system persist.
As each of
the 18 Assembly districts has six
members, the percentage quota for
election is 14.3%, the quota that elects
State senators in the periodic elections
to the Australian Senate. The table
below gives results for those polls and
the 1997 polls for
Each of the 18 districts used in the 1997 polls to elect a single member of the Commons by plurality count was used in the 1998 polls to elect 6 Assembly members by a quota-preferential PR count. The single-member poll gave gross over-representation to the Ulster Unionist Party.
© 1999 Proportional
Representation Society of
National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Cr. NARRABUNDAH 2604
National Secretary: Deane Crabb 11 Yapinga Street PLYMPTON 5039
Tel: (02) 6295 8137, (08) 8297 6441 firstname.lastname@example.org
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