Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia



June 2001


President Highlights 1949 Change to PR at Parliament’s Centenary Sitting

New City of Melbourne Electoral System Ignores Tasmania’s Electoral Experience

Heated Differences about Integrity of Electoral Roll

ACT's Electronic Voting and Increased Rotations


2001 Regulations Acknowledge PRSA

List of issues of Quota Notes

Senate President Highlights 1949 Change to PR at Parliament’s Centenary Sitting

The President of the Senate, Senator Margaret Reid, was prominent in the ceremonial joint sitting of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia held in the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, on 9th May 2001. The sitting commemorated the Federal Parliament’s inaugural opening there, on 9th May 1901, by HRH the Duke of Cornwall and York, representing his father, King Edward VI.

Senator Reid began her address to the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, the Parliament and about 7000 invited guests by stating that the original senators were elected in 1901 by a first-past-the-post system. She then said that a major event in the Senate’s history was when the present proportional representation electoral system used for the election of senators was first used in 1949.

This recognition of the importance of the basis of election of senators was an impressive feature of Australia’s official commemoration of the first century of its national Parliament. It was also a generous and non-partisan declaration by a Liberal Party senator, who knew well that it was the Chifley Labor Party Government in 1949 that had introduced proportional representation for the Senate, even though the then Menzies Liberal Opposition had not opposed the Bill overall. The main change that the Liberals had unsuccessfully sought was omission of the unjustified and onerous requirement, insisted upon by the minister introducing the Bill, Dr H.V. Evatt K.C, that there be no degree of optional marking of preferences whatsoever.

Of course there was an exception to Senator Reid’s first statement about the 1901 election, which she would have been well aware of, but it was quite appropriate, on such an occasion, to avoid complicating matters by mentioning it. That was the election of Tasmania’s six original senators by the Hare-Clark system of proportional representation, which by 1901 had become the method established, in Tasmania alone, for conducting elections in multi-member electorates for the State’s Lower House.

As Section 7 of the Australian Constitution begins, ‘The Senate shall be composed of senators for each State, voting, until the Parliament otherwise provides, as one electorate ...’, all senators were elected from State-wide electorates.

As Section 10 required that State Lower House electoral systems be used for Senate polls until the Federal Parliament enacted otherwise, all the other State senators were elected by a multiple first-past-the-post system, which was later adopted for Senate polls after the Senate had amended the Barton Government’s Commonwealth Electoral Bill 1902. That Bill had provided for direct election of senators by quota-preferential proportional representation, with fully optional marking of preferences.

The first-past-the-post system substituted proved, as its opponents had forecast, to be most unsatisfactory and it was superseded by a preferential, but not proportional, system in 1919.

New City of Melbourne Electoral System Ignores Tasmania’s Electoral Experience

The Victorian Government moved last year to cut short the term of office of all nine councillors of the City of Melbourne. It succeeded in having the Opposition dominated Upper House agree to passing the City of Melbourne Act 2001, which provided for substantial changes in the way the councillors, and the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor, are to be elected, although no change was made to the number of councillors, or the system of electing them all for concurrent terms.

The outgoing Council consisted of five district councillors elected from the whole municipal district by a quota-preferential method of proportional representation, and four ward councillors, each of whom was elected, by a majority-preferential count, to represent one of the four single-member wards. Casual vacancies among district councillors were, after a belated legislative amendment, filled by countback, and those among ward councillors were filled by a poll in the ward.

The Council to be elected in July 2001 will include a Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor, each of whom is to be, for the first time in Melbourne’s history, popularly elected by the same electors, and on the same occasion, as the remaining seven councillors. Tasmania’s municipalities have had a somewhat comparable arrangement for some years now, but the new Melbourne system has significant differences from the superior Tasmanian system. In Tasmania, the Mayor and Deputy must nominate separately and independently for their respective positions. They are popularly and directly elected for a two-year term, in separate polls. In Melbourne a system, fortunately never used before in Australia, has been established in which each of the candidates for Mayor must nominate in conjunction with a single candidate for Deputy Mayor.

Linked nomination in that way is also the only way in which one can stand for Melbourne’s Deputy Mayor. The Mayor and Deputy elected in this way are undoubtedly popularly elected, but neither the Mayor nor the Deputy can be correctly said to be directly elected, although that term is being very widely used to describe this system.

The pair of mayoral officers is directly elected, but the individual members of the pair are not directly elected, as a voter’s support for a candidate for Mayor leaves the voter with no choice for Deputy, and there might also be cases where some voters are prepared, possibly reluctantly, to vote for a particular Mayoral candidate largely because they strongly wish to support, or avoid supporting, a particular candidate for Deputy.

Voters do not have the flexibility and voter power inherent in the Tasmanian system where candidates for Mayor and Deputy can be existing councillors elected at the previous periodic poll (half the councillors must retire every two years and councillors’ terms are four years), or can stand at the separate concurrent election of councillors, as well as standing for the Mayoral and Deputy elections. In Tasmania if a candidate is elected as Mayor or Deputy, any preferences that candidate gained at the election of councillors are transferred to the next preferred candidate, and if a candidate for Mayor or Deputy fails to be elected as a councillor at the concurrent poll for councillors, any preferences that candidate gained are transferred to the next preferred candidate for Mayor or Deputy.

In the inferior and arbitrarily cobbled-together new Melbourne system candidates must choose between seeking a Mayoral or Deputy position, or seeking election as an ordinary councillor. Melbourne candidates are unnecessarily prevented from being ranked by the voters for both roles, and two distinct classes of councillors are unnecessarily created - those with a quota, and those with an absolute majority. The quota is raised to 12.5%, when application to all councillors would see it set at 10%.

A most retrograde innovation is the first intrusion, for Victorian councils, of the Group Voting Ticket device, which had only previously been applied for councils in NSW. This uses above-the-line and below-the-line voting, which is tailor-made for eventually institutionalizing party and group politics in local government. Party power brokers are presumably hoping that voters will tamely, or lazily, accept tickets, and thus not bother to choose an order among the candidates within those tickets.

It suits such party operators to have procedures established that actually work against a need seen by many commentators on modern elections in Australia that citizens should become far more involved and interested in the qualities and viewpoints of individual candidates. A Hare-Clark system, which prompts parties and candidates to reveal and promote that information to maximize their chance of election, and thus creates real voter participation, is vital to counter growing voter alienation and cynicism.

Heated Differences about Integrity of Electoral Roll

After last year’s reference by the Special Minister of State (QN 2000D), and public hearings, including in the run-up to the Queensland State election, the Commonwealth Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters released, in May 2001, its report into the integrity of the electoral roll "User friendly, not abuser friendly".

The PRSA submission drew attention to the prevalence of abuses at preselections for safe seats, whose very existence was the heart of the problem. It pointed out that at general elections relatively few seats have been won by narrow margins. A group wanting to be certain of influencing outcomes by enrolment fraud would have to add thousands of phantom voters to a range of marginal electorates.

Former Australian Electoral Commissioner Professor Colin Hughes argued that as attacks on the integrity of the rolls are perpetrated by "careerists who seek advancement in elective office or within party hierarchies", the most appropriate remedy might be to make enrolment fraud a disqualifying offence from the positions they seek. He noted that Section 44 of the Constitution renders a person convicted for any offence punishable by imprisonment for one year or longer incapable of being chosen or sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

The Joint Standing Committee report indicated that, following passage of the Criminal Code Amendment (Theft, Fraud, Bribery and Related Offences) Act 2000 on 24th May 2001, the offences of forging an electoral paper, or using such a forgery, were replaced by general forgery offences in the Criminal Code, which carry a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. A similar change, involving a benchmark penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment under the Criminal Code, applied to the false statement offence. For offences with maximum penalties of this order, there is also no time limit for the launch of prosecutions.

The Committee recommended that the benchmark penalty for enrolment fraud offences remaining in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 be increased to 12 months’ imprisonment, or a fine of 60 penalty units. It also suggested that each voter’s gender and year of birth appear on the Certified Lists of Voters that are marked off by electoral officials prior to the issue of ballot-papers.

In its submissions and evidence, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) reiterated its view that current enrolment procedures work very well, and that there is no evidence of widespread fraud. Over the period 1990-2000, it compiled a list of 71 cases of possible enrolment fraud. The Australian Federal Police reported that between 1st July 1995 and 1st February 2001, some 145 serious or complex cases of electoral fraud were referred, of which 69 were accepted for investigation. In addition, 80 of some 300 lesser matters were accepted for investigation.

The Committee majority, including Australian Democrat Senators Bartlett and Murray, said the AEC should not be overly confident of roll management procedures. They also suggested that as well as incorporating data-matching procedures into its current performance audit of the AEC’s management of the Commonwealth Electoral Roll, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) should conduct annual data-matching exercises on a sample of the roll.

Further, the majority urged the States and Territories to support the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Regulations 2000, which set out prescribed forms of proof of identity, among which an original must be verified at the time of enrolment. They also indicated that the Commonwealth should proceed with implementation of the Regulations even if that induced some jurisdictions to establish separate electoral rolls.

For new enrolments the majority recommended that the rolls should close on the day the writ is issued, rather than seven days later as at present, and that voters already enrolled should have three more days to advise changes.

The majority set out a brief history of statutory recognition of parties, and recent court cases in which the rules of political parties were found to be justiciable. They referred to evidence given about the factional influence of the Queensland Branch of the Australian Workers’ Union on the Queensland ALP, and then recommended that "the principle of one vote, one value for internal party ballots be a prerequisite for the registration of political parties".

A minority report by the three ALP members was marked by criticism of the way in which the whole inquiry had been run, including the manner in which some potential witnesses but not others had been treated. The minority argued that tightening provisions for enrolment, including those in relation to the close of the roll for general elections, would disfranchise many citizens without tackling the identified problem relating to change of enrolment before party plebiscites. They also indicated that the data-matching recommendations relating to the ANAO were premature, and that "[w]ithout any consideration of the wide range of methods that registered political parties use for internal ballots and how such a decision might affect them", it was "ludicrous" for the Committee to propose the "one vote, one value" recommendation.

ACT's Electronic Voting and Increased Rotations

Some significant changes have been made to Australian Capital Territory electoral legislation for the general elections scheduled for the third Saturday in October 2001.

Robson Rotation has been in use at both the 1995 and 1998 elections. The specific detail of the various column orders for a given number of endorsed party or group candidates was entrenched at the referendum of February 1995. While overall down-the-column (party-linear) votes have been shared among these candidates, in several close contests one continuing candidate has obtained noticeable advantage when another has been excluded towards the end of the scrutiny (QN 1999B). This has generally been where an odd number of large party-linear parcels have been shared among two remaining candidates from a particular column.

The earliest proposal to eliminate such advantage was to double the number of rotations by also reversing each column order. While this was a useful mechanism when just two candidates remained from a column, it had the potential for creating serious anomalies earlier in the scrutiny and could not be supported (QN 1997D). Extensive work by the ACT Electoral Commissioner, Mr Philip Green, and Dr Ken Brewer on behalf of the Canberra Branch of the Statistical Society of Australia established the extent to which advantage could be removed through applying a simple round of rotations underneath each name at the top of a column.

Insights gained in this process led to the discovery of a somewhat larger group of rotations, 60 where 5 candidates are involved and 420 in the case of 7, that eliminate party-linear advantage as much as possible in all circumstances. In June the Electoral (Entrenched Provisions) Amendment Act 2001 was passed with 15 MLAs in favour and none against. The achievement of a two-thirds Assembly majority meant that the extension of rotations could take place without the people’s endorsement at referendum.

Further provisions in the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001 (No 2) restricted maximum column size to the number of vacancies, 5 and 7 respectively, in order to implement this refinement. If parties or groups endorse more candidates, their names are spread over two or more columns.

Another change, recommended by the ACT Electoral Commissioner in his most recent review of the legislation, ended the fiction surrounding registration of party names by MLAs wanting to secure their own column on the ballot-paper. Troubled by the disrepute into which acceptance of flimsy party constitutions can bring electoral arrangements, the PRSA’s ACT Branch lodged objections where there was little evidence of the existence of a bona fide party. One case was an application by a sitting MLA.

In future, those wanting party registration will need to present a list of 100 members along with a functional constitution. MLAs also have the option of registering a ballot group, which gives them a right to their own column on the ballot-paper. Three Independents have subsequently registered ballot groups while the fourth, Mr Michael Moore, the Minister for Health, Housing and Community Care, will not be re-nominating in October. The United Canberra Party, Progressive Labour Party, Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group) and Shooters Party (ACT) were voluntarily deregistered within weeks of the passage of this amendment.

In Assembly debate, Independents and the ACT Greens were highly critical of agreements reached after "secret negotiations" between the Labor and Liberal parties to:

  • align electoral funding reporting with a Commonwealth regime that requires much less detailed disclosure;
  • increase from 2% to 4% of first preference votes the threshold for political funding for groups and individual candidates (return-of-deposit arrangements based on support levels for individual candidates were not affected); and
  • increase from 2 to 20 in the number of nominating signatures required by candidates that are not endorsed by registered political parties (in line with Commonwealth requirements, Opposition Leader Jon Stanhope sought a rise to 50 signatures).

The ACT, in December 2000, became the first Australian jurisdiction to establish an electronic voting option. In addition, as for Senate elections and those for the Western Australian, South Australian and New South Wales Legislative Councils, a computer program will determine the result. To minimize the risk of error, all votes cast manually will be entered twice independently. Before admission to the count, any discrepancies will be checked.

The ACT Electoral Commissioner announced (www.elections.act.gov.au/media0104.html) in April 2001 that a locally-owned company, Software Improvements, had won the tender to develop a new system for use in four pre-poll voting centres and eight polling places on election day itself. Around 10% of voters are expected to opt to vote electronically. Details of the system’s functionality can be found at www.elections.act.gov.au/EVACS.html

An Electronic Voting and Vote Counting Reference Group will provide advice to the Commissioner during the design and testing stages of the electronic voting project. Bogey Musidlak, PRSA President, has accepted an invitation to be a member of that Reference Group, along with representatives of MLAs and political parties and disabled groups. The Electoral Commissioner has foreshadowed the possibility of Internet voting being used in 2004 (www.elections.act.gov.au/adobe/PolFut.pdf) if security and other major issues can be properly dealt with by then.

2001 Regulations Acknowledge PRSA

The Victorian Government's Human Services Department asked the Proportional Representation Society of Australia recently to permit the reproduction, in new Regulations, made by the Governor-in-Council of Victoria on 5th June 2001, of the Proportional Representation Rules in its Proportional Representation Manual.

The Society was pleased that the Government wished to prescribe a quota-preferential electoral system for the elections to be governed by the Regulation, and that the rules specified by the Society were considered appropriate.

The regulations were the Health Services (Community Health Centre Elections) Regulations 2001 [Statutory Rule No. 51 of 2001] made under Section 158 of the Health Services Act 1988, and provide for elections for members of boards of community health centres, including the filling of casual vacancies by countback.

The Regulations, under the heading ‘ENDNOTES’ states, "Reg. 25(1): Schedule 1 is an adaptation of the Rules of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia for Conducting Elections by the Quota-Preferential Method set out in the third edition of the Proportional Representation Manual published by the Society in 1977."

Section 4.1, ‘Overview’, of the Departmental Guidelines publication for the elections, dated May 2001, acknowledges the Society as the source of the Rules used, and states the PRSA Web site address (www.prsa.org.au).


©  Copyright 2001 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 Fax (03) 9589 1680 info@prsa.org.au

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