Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

QN2000A                     March 2000              www.prsa.org.au



·         PRSA Works to Entrench Hare-Clark PR for Victoria's Legislative Council


·         What Changes are Proposed?


·        ”Deadlock or Democracy? The Future of the Senate”


·         Proposed Electoral System for Successor to A.R.M.



PRSA Works to Entrench Hare-Clark PR for Victoria’s Legislative Council

The Victorian Branch of the PRSA is pleased that the State's ALP Government has tabled a proportional representation Bill, but it is steadily working to have key members of State Parliament appreciate the superiority of the Hare-Clark form of PR over the debased form of PR proposed in that Bill, the Constitution (Reform) Bill 1999.

In December 1999 the Branch held a Public Meeting at which the PRSA National President, Mr Bogey Musidlak, gave an impressive account of the campaigns about the ACT Assembly’s electoral system that the ACT Branch of the Society successfully conducted at referendums there.

Bogey gave a most inspiring account of the successful campaigns the ACT Branch, the Liberal and Australian Democrat parties, and other groups mounted in 1991-92, when some 65% of ACT voters supported Hare-Clark over the ALP Government’s preferred single-member electorate model, and in 1995, when a similar majority voted to have key Hare-Clark principles entrenched so that only a referendum or a 2/3 majority of MLAs could change them.

Soon after that public meeting the Victorian Branch President, Dr Lee Naish, and Bogey, together with the National Vice-President, Mr Geoffrey Goode, had a most useful discussion at Parliament House at which the advisers to the Independent MLAs for Gippsland West, Ms Susan Davies MLA, and Mildura, Mr Russell Savage MLA, who since wrote the article, What Changes are Proposed?, below, were present. Dr Helen Foard, adviser to the Independent for Gippsland East, Mr Craig Ingram MLA, met Lee and Geoffrey in February 2000. Geoffrey has also had telephone discussions with Ms Susan Davies, and correspondence and telephone discussions with Mr Bruce Evans, Electorate Officer for Mr Craig Ingram.

Also in February 2000, Lee Naish and Geoffrey Goode had a very worthwhile meeting with the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Denis Napthine MLA, and the Shadow Attorney-General, Dr Robert Dean MLA. Lee and Geoff discussed with both Opposition front-benchers the points listed below, and gave the background to the ACT's 1992 plebiscite and 1995 referendum, mentioned above.

Lee and Geoff told why Western Australia had to enact its present system of filling Legislative Council casual vacancies by ballot-paper recount - not party appointment as the originally tabled ALP Bill had sought. The ALP gave up its undemocratic party appointment model, rather than lose a referendum on it. Sir Charles Court's Liberal Government had entrenched in Section 73(2) of WA’s Constitution Act 1899 a provision, requiring a referendum to change it, whereby any Bill that “expressly or impliedly provides that the Legislative Council or the Legislative Assembly shall be composed of members other than members chosen directly by the people” shall have no force as an Act unless approved at a referendum.

Lee and Geoff said that Tasmania’s Robson Rotation law, which applies for both Houses, was introduced by Neil Robson, a Liberal MHA for Bass. It was acceptable to both the ALP-dominated Assembly and the Legislative Council, where Labor was in a distinct minority. They showed the Liberal MPs samples of the ten different ballot-papers, different in that candidates’ names were in different orders, used in the single electorate of Denison in 1992.

The meetings followed correspondence to various MPs, in which the Society's key Hare-Clark points about the Constitution (Reform) Bill 1999 were made as follows:

  • Direct election, by countback: All MLCs should be directly elected by the voters, and therefore, casual vacancies should be filled by a "countback" of the ballot-papers that elected the vacating member, as in the Tasmanian and ACT Assemblies. Casual vacancies should not be filled by any indirect method of political party appointment, as proposed by the Constitution (Reform) Bill 1999.
  • Absence of Group Voting Tickets: There should be a requirement that, for a vote to be counted for any candidate, a specific individual preference marking for that candidate must appear against that candidate’s name in a space to be provided for it on each ballot-paper. The legislation should make it clear that there must be no device, provision or arrangement whereby that requirement can be circumvented, curtailed or dispensed with.
  • Robson Rotation: Ballot-papers should be printed in batches of equal number with each endorsed candidate at the top of a group column, as detailed in the Tasmanian and ACT Electoral Acts, this being important to allow the electoral support of each individual candidate to be tested, revealed, and to take effect, rather than having it hidden and impotent, by the parties being allowed to have their preferred order imposed on all the ballot-papers.
  • Entrenchment of Key Features: The key features of a Hare-Clark form of PR include the need for the number of vacancies in any electoral district to be an odd number not less than five. These key features, and the entrenchment provision itself, should be entrenched in Victoria’s Constitution Act 1975, so that they cannot be altered except by a simple majority vote at a referendum.

What Changes are Proposed?

by Rick Brown and Frances O'Reilly, Advisors to MLAs for Mildura and Gippsland West respectively.

By permission, from Independent Forum, Autumn 2000. PRSA additions in [square brackets].

The government's proposed changes to the Legislative Council are the most significant constitutional proposals for many years. Not only are they far reaching, but many of them require intensive study. Indeed, there is a risk that, because the changes raise so many issues, public discussion will focus only on one or two.

Of the [mainland] Australian parliaments which consist of two houses (Queensland has only a Legislative Assembly), Victoria’s is the only one in which the members of neither House are elected by proportional representation (the system used to elect senators). The advantage over [single-vacancy] preferential voting (the system used in Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council elections) is that preferential voting [in Victoria where it is always only for a single vacancy at a time] disadvantages smaller parties or groups and individuals, because successful candidates must obtain 50% of the vote.

However, there are various ways in which a decision to change the system of voting for the Legislative Council to proportional voting can be implemented. The government proposes to reduce the number of Legislative Councillors from 44 to 35 and to create three metropolitan and two non-metropolitan provinces or electorates, each with seven MPs. The Proportional Representation Society has drawn boundaries for five provinces based on the government's proposals. One of the 2 non-metropolitan provinces extends from the Pacific Ocean to Shepparton and takes in Wodonga in the north and Monbulk and Cranbourne in the south.

The government's model does not appear to serve the interests of regional Victorians well. Former member for Gippsland East, Bruce Evans, believes it is possible to draw boundaries [A] in such a way that regional Victorians get a fairer go, even with a 35-member, five-province model. However, this would require the government to remove the arbitrary condition that there must be three metropolitan and two non-metropolitan provinces.

[A] The Evans Model

Even more options would become available if the reduction in numbers from 44 to 35 were not imposed. The Legislative Assembly would only be reduced in size from 88 members to 85. A comparable reduction for the Council would be from 44 to 42 members. This number would enable the creation of six, seven-member provinces or seven, six-member provinces.

The Australian Democrats argue for an increase in the size of the Council from 44 to 45 members to enable the creation of five nine-member provinces. One could have also nine five-member electorates, or nine four-member provinces if a smaller Council were desired.

The maps drawn by Helen Foard, an adviser to Craig Ingram, reinforce the importance of the number of provinces or electorates. Under the Government's proposal each province would consist of 17 Legislative Assembly electorates. However, if there were nine provinces [B], for example, not only could there be created two distinctively regional provinces covering less than ten assembly districts, but there could be created a distinctive outer metropolitan province on the fringes of Melbourne.

All options need to be investigated to determine which model would be in the best interests of all Victorians, and not just the political interests of one or other political party.

[B] Non-Metropolitan Provinces in a Nine Province Model

Other equally important changes proposed by the government deserve the same level of interest as that which these issues will attract. The government proposes to follow the Senate system by allowing us to vote for parties instead of filling out every square. Further, where more than 9 candidates nominate in a province, voters need to number only 90% of the squares consecutively.

The reasons given for these procedures are that, given the large number of candidates who nominate, they are more convenient for voters and they reduce the number of informal voters. However, another alternative would be to require voters to fill in only the number of squares equal to the number of positions to be filled in the election.

It is true that above the line voting is popular. More than 90% of votes in the Senate are cast in this way. However, it is not essential. Tasmania, which has a system of proportional voting for its Legislative Assembly, does not have above the line voting. It also rotates the names of each candidate on the ballot paper. One result is that there is competition between candidates of the same party as well as competition between the parties. Another is that the parties do not publish how-to-vote cards.

The system of above the line voting entrenches parties, and virtually forces individuals to form parties or groups to attract votes. The system undermines the concept of independents. Further we do not know if the number of candidates nominating for each province will be so large as to warrant above the line voting.

The Senate system now entrenches political parties in another way. If senators resign, die or are removed from office, the registered officers of senators' parties select their replacements. Generally the registered officer is the state director of the political party. The replacement need not have contested the election in which a senator was elected, or any other election.

Neither the people nor the parliament will have a say in filling the casual vacancy of a legislative councillor who was a member of a political party when they were elected. However, if vacancies are created by legislative councillors who were not members of a political party at the time of their election, vacancies would be filled by recounting the ballot papers to determine the replacement.

Why it is necessary to adopt different practices for different candidates is not clear. There is not an obvious reason for not counting the ballot papers to fill every casual vacancy. At least in this way the person filling the vacancy will have submitted their name to the people and have received some public support.

The government also proposes to introduce a fixed four-year term so that political parties cannot manipulate election dates to derive an electoral advantage. However the Bill does not contain a provision to resolve a situation in which the Legislative Council refuses to pass legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly.

This vacuum focuses attention on the proposal to remove the Legislative Council's power to refuse to pass the government's budget, or the Annual Appropriation Bill. The definition of what could be included in the Appropriation Bill is fundamentally different from what can be included in the same Bill in the federal parliament. It would allow the state government to bypass the Legislative Council when introducing major capital works programs and new policies.

The proposed legislation requires that only the Legislative Assembly pass the Annual Appropriation Bill. The only other requirement would be that the Auditor General certify it is the Annual Appropriation Bill.

This eliminates the ability of the Legislative Council not only to refuse supply, but to even discuss or dissect the government's budget. As well as being removed from the process of passing or rejecting the budget, the Council is also unable to comment on it or send it to Committee.

The Senate and the Legislative Councils in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania retain this power. In New South Wales the Legislative Council cannot reject the money Bills, but it still debates them and can suggest changes, thus providing a process of review and increasing public discussion and scrutiny of the Government's budget. Further the definition of what can be included in the Bills in NSW is more limited than what is proposed in Victoria.

This exclusion of the Legislative Council seems contradictory to the idea of making the Council a legitimate House of Review. To remove the Legislative Council from the process of passing or debating the government's budget is to remove it from a major activity of government.

The focus on the Legislative Council as a House of Review highlights the issue of how many Members are needed to ensure there is good scrutiny of legislation through an effective Committee system. The number of members is an important issue when discussing how to ensure effective representation the electorate. It is also relevant when considering the minimum number of members needed to do the necessary Committee work in reviewing legislation and the implementation of government policies.

The question is what is the minimum size necessary if an upper house is to be a good House of Review. While reducing the size of the Legislative Council will be electorally popular, especially given its performance in recent times, a reduction from 44 to 35 might limit options for setting up an efficient committee structure to review legislation effectively.


Comments by PRSA Victorian Branch: The Independents surprised many people by countering the Government's proposal of five 7-member provinces with a plan for eight 5-member provinces, as the increase in quota from 12.5% to 16.7% would represent a 33% increase in the target for election, which would normally please the major parties rather than Independents. We would have expected the Independents to seek six 7-member provinces, as that would ensure distinctly smaller provinces than those proposed in the 1999 Bill, with two being essentially rural.

Discussions with the Independents and their advisors revealed that the model of eight five-member provinces stemmed from their firm belief that it was unacceptable to change the size of the Lower House of eighty-eight districts, and that as each province should continue to be contiguous with an integral number of districts, the only practicable number of districts per province was eleven, leading to a Legislative Council of forty members.

The PRSAV considers that a promising model for reform would be a 42-member Council and an 84-member Assembly, as that would allow PR, maintain the present 2:1 ratio between the Houses, and provide two options

(a) six seven-member provinces with MLCs having the same term as MLAs, and

(b) three fourteen-member provinces with MLCs’ terms being twice that of the MLAs and 7 MLCs being elected for each province at each alternate election.

The PRSAV does not oppose an 8-province model, with five vacancies in each province. Having an odd number of vacancies in each province is important, as a majority of votes then translates into a majority of seats. The PRSAV will continue to emphasize the voter-empowering features that the present Bill lacks. PR will be impoverished unless all MPs are directly elected by the people, and the Robson Rotation rather than above-the-line voting is a feature of the system. A Hare-Clark Act will be prey to opportunistic repeal or amendment unless key features are entrenched by the need for a referendum before any proposed change.


"Deadlock or Democracy? The Future of the Senate"

PRSA National Secretary, Deane Crabb, reviews this book edited by Brian Costar, Professor of Politics at Monash University, Victoria:
152 x 212 mm PB 64 pp ISBN 0 86840 570 1 RRP $9.95 UNSW Press

This book's blurb says, "How should senators be elected? Are the smaller parties and independents wielding too much power? Is the Senate the only chamber where genuine discussion can take place? These questions are fuelling a heated debate about the future of the Senate."

The book's four contributors largely ignore these key questions, and mainly reflect their particular interests. The book will disappoint those interested in electoral reform and in improving the method of electing the Senate. The first contributor, Senator Helen Coonan (Liberal, NSW), gets closest to that issue with her proposal for a threshold. The "single transferable vote method of proportional representation used for counting Senate votes ensures that no vote is wasted" (her words, Page 25), so a threshold device is just not necessary. Her threshold is very selective - applying only to minor parties, and not to the major party candidates with first preference votes below her arbitrary threshold. Ensuring all voters' marked preferences are implemented helps ensure they elect senators they want. Thresholds just thwart voters, with an artificial barrier.

Senator Meg Lees's contribution ignores the method of electing senators, but suggests a mixed-member method to elect MHRs, like the Jenkins Royal Commission proposal for Britain. Senator Lees (Australian Democrats, SA) uses that Royal Commission's argument that the method for electing Australia's Senate is too radical, which might apply in a UK context with its first-past-the-post mindset, but it hardly applies here, where quota-preferential PR has served 50 years to elect senators, and is used for five other legislative Houses, and many municipalities and other bodies. As Senator Lees's suggestion conflicts with her party's policy, one hopes that it will go no further.

The contribution by Senator John Faulkner (ALP, NSW) says that "Proposals for Senate reform which rely on radical change to the electoral system are no longer realistic in the Australian political context. Australians just won't buy them." (Page 44). ALP policy is to leave the method of electing the Senate unchanged, but is for constitutional change to prevent the Senate rejecting, deferring or blocking appropriation bills. The ALP's reiterated acceptance of PR is most welcome after some of the ruminations of the Keating period.

The final contributor, Harry Evans, the Clerk of the Senate, is inaccurately called Senator in the book. Mr Evans is a staunch supporter of the role of the Senate, but he has never shown any sign of intending to stand for a Senate seat. He discusses effects of PR on accountability versus government control. He does not suggest any changes, but does conclude that the Senate, and indeed any upper houses elected by PR, provide "a better reflection of the voters' opinion, a democratic quality control on legislation and a means of ensuring that governments do not entirely avoid public accountability." (Page 57).

No senator discussed above-the-line voting (though Senator Coonan mentioned it), or the requirement to mark all preferences, which have benefited political parties vis-à-vis voters, led to a quasi-list PR, and encouraged growing numbers of voters to support minor parties and independents. It is time to review these aspects, especially indirect filling of casual vacancies and above-the-line voting, and to consider optional preferential voting and the Robson Rotation, but the book is silent on these issues.

Electoral reform must consider voters' concerns, and not just political parties. Harry Evans dealt with such matters, but several more such independent contributions would have made this book a lot more worthwhile.

Proposed Electoral System for Successor to A.R.M.

The Web site of the Australian Republican Movement (www.republic.org.au) reveals a re-organization of that body under a new name, Republic Australia. RA's draft Constitution states that, for its State and National Councils, "All positions shall be decided by simple majority."

That loose wording means that first-past-the-post voting will apply! Where a group of members is to be elected, the system for electing Australian senators from 1901 to 1919 would apply. RA should definitely reconsider that.


© 2000 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Cr. NARRABUNDAH 2604

National Secretary: Deane Crabb 11 Yapinga St. PLYMPTON 5038

Tel: (08) 8297 6441, (02) 6295 8137      info@prsa.org.au

Printed by Prestige Copying & Printing, 97 Pirie Street ADELAIDE SA 5000