QUOTA

NOTES

 

 

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

 

QN2001C         

September 2001

     www.prsa.org.au


Constitution Commission Victoria Holds Seminar on Uppler House Voting Systems


Call for Nominations for Elections of PRSA Office-bearers for 2002-03

Submission to Victorian Government Review of Local Government Act 1989
 

Government Changes at the First Close Northern Territory Election

 
Lopsided Status Quo Maintained after Record Low United Kingdom Turnout

 
Public Meeting on a Municipalityís Multiple Majority-Preferential System

 

List of issues of Quota Notes

 

Constitution Commission Victoria Holds Seminar on Upper House Voting Systems

The Constitution Commission Victoria (see QN2001A) has begun its public participation process by establishing a Web site (www.constitution.vic.gov.au) which contains a number of downloadable documents, and holding several seminars and public consultations. 

Members of the Victoria-Tasmania Branch of the PRSA were present at the August seminar "Voting Systems Towards a Genuine House of Review", which was attended by all three members of the Commission, and featured Professor Colin Hughes, the former Australian Electoral Commissioner; and Dr Nick Economou, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at Monash University; as speakers. 

Representatives of the PRSA strongly supported the very pointed remarks of two members of the audience at question time. Emeritus Professor Joan Rydon began by trenchantly criticizing Group Voting Tickets and the associated insidious apparatus on ballot-papers of above-the-line and below-the-line voting "options". A former President of the Senate, Mr Michael Beahan, said that he had concluded that those 1984 changes had weakened voters' identification with the senators they were electing. These party-focussed electoral manipulation devices are included in the Constitution (Proportional Representation) Bill 2000, which has been referred to the Commission. Mr Craig Ingram MLA moved, in Victoria's Legislative Assembly, that these devices be omitted, but his motion was opposed by all MLAs of all parties, and supported by Mr Ingram's two fellow Independents only (see QN2000C). 

Professor Malcolm Mackerras then attracted the attention of the seminar by a bold and accurate declaration about the Senate elections held since the introduction in 1984 of Group Voting Tickets. He said that, since then, senators have not been elected by an electoral system, but have instead gained their seats by a system of party appointment, and that the electors have confined their involvement to deciding how many senators each party gains. He went on to stress the disengagement between the electors and their supposed representatives that such a process has produced, and to advocate the use of a Hare-Clark electoral system for the Victorian Legislative Council, along the lines already successfully operating in Tasmania and the ACT. 

PRSA Office-bearers made points to those present. The PRSA National Vice-President, Geoffrey Goode, suggested that the Constitution Commission had a role similar to that of the Federal Parliament in the early 1990s when the ALP, in Government in the ACT and federally, wanted it to legislate for single-vacancy electorates for the new ACT Assembly to replace the disastrous "Consolidated d'Hondt" party list PR that had earlier been imposed and was now condemned by nearly everybody. 

That grim experience of a party list type of PR fortunately encouraged those opposed to single-vacancy electorates to focus on the untrammelled Hare-Clark form of PR. The ALP was opposed in its wish by Coalition and Australian Democrat senators, who had a majority of Senate seats, and wanted a Hare-Clark system. The solution achieved was the passage of Federal legislation to hold a plebiscite in the ACT to let voters choose between the two systems. At the 1992 plebiscite 65% of voters chose Hare-Clark. The ACT Assembly legislated accordingly, after the Follett ALP Government's unsuccessful attempt to include party boxes (QN 74, June 1994). 

Mr Goode noted that in Victoria the larger parties' attitudes to PR were the reverse of their attitudes in the ACT, that Victoria had no experience at the State level of the drawbacks of Group Voting Tickets, and that, unlike the Federal Parliament, the Commission could not legislate. He suggested that the Commission might consider the benefit of a mechanism to resolve the matter, to the satisfaction of a majority of voters. It could recommend that the Government convert its Bill to provide for a Hare-Clark system for the Legislative Council, but with a requirement that it not take effect unless approved at a referendum. 
 

Call for Nominations for Elections of PRSA Office-bearers for 2002-03 

The Returning Officer is Mr Norman Cox, Secretary of the PRSA's Western Australian Branch, as the Secretary of the South Australian Branch, Mr Deane Crabb, intends to stand again for the position of National Secretary. Under the PRSA Constitution the Returning Officer rotates among the Branch Secretaries. The order, by precedent, is Victoria, NSW, SA, WA, Queensland and the ACT. Nominations, for President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer, which need be signed by the candidate only, as consent to nomination, must be with Mr Cox at 39A Devon Road, SWANBOURNE, WA 6010 by 31st October 2001. 

Any candidate may submit, with the nomination, a statement of up to one hundred words to the Returning Officer, who shall submit it to voters with the ballot-papers. The two-year term of each office begins on 1st January 2002. If a poll is required, ballot-papers will be posted on 7th November 2001, and the poll will close on 14th December 2001. Results will appear in Quota Notes for December 2001, QN2001D. 
 

Submission to Victorian Government Review of Local Government Act 1989

The PRSA's Victoria-Tasmania Branch made a submission (www.prsa.org.au/ahwxlocg.htm) in August 2001 to a Review of Victoria's Local Government Act 1989. The submission supported the suggestion in the Review that a quota-preferential PR option should be available for those Councils that wish to use it. At present the only PR aspects ever specifically sanctioned by Victorian local government legislation have been the use of PR for Melbourne City Council elections, and its use as ordered by the Minister. That latter application has operated for pure political expediency, and never extended beyond two municipalities. It now survives in only one. 

A key feature of the PRSAV-T submission was its opposition to Group Voting Ticket provisions, which were introduced for the first time in a Victorian Act for the recently conducted elections for the City of Melbourne
 

Government Changes at the First Close Northern Territory Election 

On 18th August 2001, the first close NT election outcome since the Legislative Assembly became fully elected in 1974 saw the long reign of the Country Liberal Party come to an end. After a few daysí wait in the most marginal electorate, Millner, for postal votes to trickle in, it became clear that this was a seat where the CLP did particularly badly with preferences, taking less than thirty percent of the vote that went to Independents and one minor party, and falling eighty-two votes behind the ALP candidate. 

Led by Clare Martin, Territory Labor obtained thirteen seats compared with ten for the Country Liberal Party (CLP) and two won by Independents, an excellent return for its 48.1% of the two-party-preferred vote. The CLP lost seven seats, six in the suburbs of Darwin to Labor, and one on its outskirts to an Independent. The CLPs share of first preferences in that region fell from 56.4% to 47.9%, while the ALPís share rose from 35.8% to 41.2%. 

That left Labor with eight of the thirteen seats in Darwin and its environs, compared with four for the CLP and one for an Independent. Laborís previous best here was three seats when the Assembly was smaller, and two seats from the time of its enlargement to twenty-five members. 

Of the eleven new MLAs, two went straight into Cabinet. Five sitting CLP members, including three Ministers, were defeated and two other seats where incumbents first elected in 1983 retired also changed hands. Two other MLAs from each of the CLP and Labor retired and were replaced by candidates their parties endorsed. 

Seven women were elected (four ALP, two CLP and one Independent, Loraine Braham, a one-time CLP Minister who was disendorsed in favour of a much younger candidate) and four Aborigines (all ALP, one female). Mrs Braham is expected to become the new Speaker when the Assembly convenes in October, and the other Independent, Gerry Wood, Deputy Speaker. 

Across the Territory, in 1997 the CLP obtained 54.7% of first preferences and 58% of the two-party-preferred vote, emerging with eight of the twenty-five seats on that occasion. In 2001, its first preferences fell to 45.4% while Laborís rose slightly, from 38.5% to 40.6%. 

The total number of candidates rose from sixty-six to eighty-eight. Of these twenty-seven were CLP, twenty-five were Labor, twenty were Independents and sixteen were from four smaller parties. There were two electorates in which the CLP endorsed a pair of candidates. There were just three two-candidate contests, compared with thirteen at each of the previous two general elections. Five candidates nominated on three occasions. Turnout rose slightly to 81% and informal voting dropped overall from 5.2% to 4.3%, ranging from 2.7% in Nelson (won by an Independent, Laborís vote being under 10%) to 10.0% in Arnhem

To cast a formal vote, Territorians are required to indicate preferences for all candidates. Candidatesí names appear in alphabetical order and their photographs are included on the ballot-paper, but there are no party designations. 

Commentators attributed a sizeable part of the fall-off in support for the CLP in Darwinís multicultural suburbs to its indignant refusal to place the One Nation party last on how-to-vote material. In the 5 seats One Nation contested, its first-preference support varied from 5.3% to 9.8%, with the CLP being favoured by between half and two-thirds of those voters. All 5 seats were won by margins ranging from nearly 12% percent to over 16%. In the aftermath of defeat, outgoing Chief Minister Denis Burke apologized to Territorians for not having placed One Nation last. 

Only six of the twenty-five electorates were won by margins less than the six percent traditionally regarded as providing a fairly safe buffer. Six CLP and five Labor margins were more than ten percent. 

To simulate what might have happened under quota-preferential proportional representation, the PRSA grouped the twenty-five single-member electorates into five, with each returning five members. The CLP and Labor would both definitely have won eleven seats. The election of three Independents would have been quite likely, though in one case it is possible the vote away from the major parties would not have adhered, and Labor would then have picked up a twelfth seat. 

The table below illustrates voter support in each of these five groupings. The table shows outcomes that could have been expected under quota-preferential PR, and shows by contrast how much fairer they would have been than the actual winner-take-all single-member outcomes. A similar exercise on pre-redistribution boundaries showed that the CLP would have won fifteen instead of eighteen seats in 1997, with the rest going to Labor. 

 

 

CLP

ALP

Ind.

Other

Casuarina, Fannie Bay, Millner, Nightcliff, Port Darwin

 

 

 

 

Votes (%)

42.7

48.0

4.8

4.6

PR Seats

2

3

-

-

Actual Seats (Single-member)

1

4

-

-

Drysdale, Johnston, Karama, Sanderson, Wanguri

 

 

 

 

Votes (%)

47.5

46.9

2.3

3.3

PR Seats

2

3

-

-

Actual Seats (Single-member)

1

4

-

-

Arafura, Blain, Brennan, Goyder, Nelson

 

 

 

 

Votes (%)

47.2

25.8

22.9

4.2

PR Seats

3

1

1

-

Actual Seats (Single-member)

3

1

1

-

Arnhem, Barkly, Daly, Katherine, Nhulunbuy

 

 

 

 

Votes (%)

38.8

44.8

11.2

5.2

PR Seats

2

2

1

-

Actual Seats (Single-member)

2

3

-

-

Araluen, Braitling, Greatorex, MacDonnell, Stuart

 

 

 

 

Votes (%)

44.2

37.2

18.6

-

PR Seats

2

2

1

-

Actual Seats (Single-member)

3

1

1

-

NORTHERN TERRITORY

 

 

 

 

Votes (%)

45.4

40.6

10.6

3.5

PR Seats

11

11

3

-

Actual Seats (Single-member)

10

13

2

-

 

A quota-preferential PR system would have much better reflected the voters' wishes at this election, as it would have at all previous polls including that for the first fully elected Assembly in 1974, when the ALP won no seats, despite receiving more than thirty percent of first preference votes.

 

Lopsided Status Quo Maintained after Record Low United Kingdom Turnout 

On 8th May 2001, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, announced that general elections for the House of Commons would be held on 7th June. English local government elections due for 3rd May had been postponed for a month because of the foot-and-mouth epidemic, and the general election was held concurrently with them. 

Labour's vote dropped 2.6% nationwide to 40.7%, but skilful targeted campaigning saw its vote share increase overall in the seats it barely held, and helped contain its net losses to just six seats. Endorsed for the first time ever by The Times newspaper, Labour emerged with 412 of the 659 seats (62.5%). It maintained its heavy dominance in Scotland (over 75% of the 72 seats with 43.2% of the vote) and Wales (85% of the 40 seats with 48.6% of the vote). 

After the voicing of some fears during the campaign that the Conservative Party might suffer further reverses, its share of the vote rose by 1% to 31.7%, for a net gain of one seat to 166 (25.2%). The Conservatives remained either without seats, or obtained only vestigial representation, in vast tracts where their overall support was between 15% and 30%. In particular, they won just a single seat in Scotland and again none in Wales. When Tory leader William Hague announced that he would step down immediately, the party moved into the multi-stage process for selecting a replacement, including a nationwide vote of members to choose which of the last two remaining contestants would prevail. 

The Liberal Democrats, now led by Charles Kennedy, increased their vote by 1.6% to 18.3%, picking up a further six seats in England, to take their overall tally to 52 (7.9%). They held their most marginal seats quite easily and won more from the Conservatives amid further evidence of tactical voting in some areas by either Labor or Liberal Democrat supporters to deny a Conservative revival. 

After the election, the Scottish National Party and their Welsh confreres Plaid Cymru announced the creation of a joint Westminster parliamentary group that, with nine members in total, would gain the status and privileges of being the fourth-largest group. They surpassed the Ulster Unionists whose vote fell from 32.7% to 26.8% in Northern Ireland, leaving them just ahead of four other parties and with six of the eighteen seats there (local government elections determined by quota-preferential proportional representation were held on the same day). 

The table below summarizes the extraordinary mismatches between levels of voter support and electoral success across Great Britain for the largest parties.

 

England

Scotland

Wales

 

Vote

%

Seat

%

Vote

%

Seat

%

Vote

%

Seat

%

Labour

41.4

61.0

43.2

76.4

48.6

85.0

Conservative

35.2

31.2

15.6

  1.4

21.0

-

Liberal Democrats

19.4

7.6

16.4

13.9

13.8

  5.0

Nationalists

n.a.

n.a.

20.1

 6.9

14.3

10.0

Others

4.1

0.2

4.7

 1.4

2.3

-

 

Public Meeting on a Municipalityís Multiple Majority-Preferential System

Victoria has a number of municipalities that are not subdivided into wards, with the result that the whole municipal district is one electorate. That is very satisfactory when a proportional representation electoral system applies, as nearly all the voters are represented by somebody they have indicated a high preference for. The City of Melbourne now uses such a system, except that it has been inflicted with Group Voting Tickets, and the anomaly where the Lord Mayor and Deputy are separately elected, and then form part of the Council, without being required to gain a quota of votes, as they would in Tasmania's municipal electoral system (see QN2001B).

Unfortunately every other Victorian municipality but one either has winner-take-all wards, or is unsubdivided and subjected to the multiple majority-preferential system, which was used for Senate elections from 1919 to 1948, when it was wisely and fortunately superseded by the present system of quota-preferential PR. 

One of these unfortunate unsubdivided Victorian municipalities is the Borough of Queenscliffe, on the western side of the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. At the March 2001 triennial general election to fill all the seven seats on that Council, 3017 first preference votes were cast (www.vec.vic.gov.au) Some candidates from the Queenscliff Community Association Inc. received over 200 first preference votes, but none were elected. Members of the Association were puzzled that a candidate, who was not supported by their group, was elected, despite his receiving only 59 first preference votes (2.0% of the vote). 

The QCA thought a PR electoral system might not produce such puzzling results, and thus asked the PRSA to provide a speaker for a meeting they were having to investigate the subject. The PRSA sent its National Vice-President, Geoffrey Goode, to speak. He was pleased to note that the councillor that received only 59 first preference votes also took the trouble to attend. 

Mr Goode told of the history of PR in Australia - it started with a municipal poll - for the City of Adelaide in 1840 (see QN60: December 1990). He pointed out that in all the jurisdictions around Victoria - NSW, ACT, SA and Tasmania - the level of government nearest the people was elected essentially by PR. He indicated how a PR poll, rather than the winner-take-all poll conducted, would have probably elected two of the QCA's candidates. That would leave five seats for the present dominant group, an outcome letting that group still control the Council, but a more representative range of ideas would tend to be debated, and publicly tested by the votes of the councillors. 

Mr Goode warned that a PR system can be overlaid with provisions such as allowing candidates to decide the order in which their names appear on the ballot-paper, and the Group Voting Tickets instituted in 1984. He said that these tend to see most elected candidates gain very few first preference votes. Most senators since preferential voting began in 1919 have won very few first preference votes. Senator Robert Ray (ALP) was elected in 1987 with 0.01% of Victoria's first preference votes - Australia's record lowest result for all PR Senate polls, from 1949 to 1998.

The meeting concurred with the PRSA's view that PR was far fairer than any winner-take-all system. Late news to hand indicates that the Borough has made a submission to the Local Government Review supporting a change to PR!

 

© 2001 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Cr. NARRABUNDAH 2604

National Secretary: Deane Crabb 11 Yapinga St. SOUTH PLYMPTON 5038

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

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