Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia





September 2002



South Australia's Voters Lose Again

South Australia continues to display the instability possible under a single-member electorate system.

At the 1997 House of Assembly election, the Liberal Party was one seat short of a majority, but was able to govern, usually with the support of the two Independents (one subsequently rejoined the party) and one National Party member.

Peter Lewis MLA was expelled from Liberal ranks in 2000 and former Minister Bob Such resigned later that year. Both stood again on 13th February 2002, Lewis under the banner of the Community Leadership Independence Coalition Party registered in 2001, and Such as an Independent.  

Rob Kerin replaced John Olsen as Premier in October 2001 after the report of the Second Software Centre Inquiry stated that Mr Olsen's evidence was at odds with the recollection of several other Ministers and senior public servants. The Premier availed himself fully of the summer extension of a government's term possible under SA's Constitution Act 1934.  

On the Labor side, after their disendorsement, Murray De Laine and Ralph Clarke (who had successfully taken branch-stacking practices to the courts, and established that political parties could not disregard their own rules) both stood again. Deputy Leader Annette Hurley took a calculated risk in seeking to wrest the seat of Light from the Liberals.  

All but nine of the 47 electorates had either five, six or seven candidates. Support for the major parties remained virtually unchanged (Liberals 40.4% to 40.0%, ALP 35.2% to 36.3%) and just two seats changed hands between them, Colton and Adelaide falling to Labor, the latter by a margin possibly close to the size of the favourable donkey vote.  

Labor regained two seats from its disendorsed candidates to be one seat short of a majority. Peter Lewis and Bob Such were re-elected, as were Rory McEwen (Ind.) and Kaylene Maywald (National).  

Of the past nine State elections, this is the worst election in terms of the proportion of voters that found their votes electing their Members of Parliament - 45.4% of South Australian voters found that their first preferences or examined further preferences did not elect anyone.  

Even though both the Liberals (42.6% of seats) and ALP (48.9%) are now over-represented in the House of Assembly, 46% of Liberal supporters and 37% of ALP voters found that they voted for unsuccessful candidates.  

Of the 14 country electorates, the ALP with 24% of the vote won only one seat, whereas the Liberals with 45% won ten seats.  In contrast, the ALP won all 13 metropolitan electorates north and west of the City of Adelaide with only 50% of the vote.  

Peter Lewis, who had campaigned hard on root and branch constitutional reform, spoke to both major parties about support for his Compact for Good Government as a basis for open and accountable government and improved democratic operation of Parliament. Four days after the election, he announced his support for the formation of the Rann Labor Government, but the change was not effected until the Parliament resumed weeks later.  

Elected Speaker, with Bob Such as Deputy, Mr Lewis later survived a Liberal challenge in the Court of Disputed Returns. Part of his Compact included establishing a Constitutional Convention within six months to consider, inter alia, citizen-initiated referendums, reducing the number of MPs, and constituting the Legislative Council as a house of review by not allowing members of political parties to stand for election to it. 
In contrast with the House of Assembly, South Australia's Legislative Council is elected by proportional representation.  Not only did the parties win seats in proportion to votes won, but also 94% of South Australian voters saw their votes elect candidates.  

In June, the Government introduced a motion requesting that the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission consider delaying a redistribution of the House of Assembly boundaries.  Better demographic data would become available to it, whereas if it went ahead and Parliament decided on a different Assembly size, the whole exercise would have to be repeated.  

When the Attorney-General discovered such a motion would be ineffectual in the face of statutory responsibilities to begin the process within three months of an election, he did not proceed with the motion.  

Under Section 83 of SA's Constitution Act 1934, these redistributions are supposed to ensure that a party with over 50% of the two-party preferred vote wins a majority of seats.  

The PRSA's South Australian Branch, the Electoral Reform Society of SA, which campaigned against this constitutional window-dressing in 1991, made a detailed submission to the Boundaries Commission (see exhibit 20.9 tendered at public hearings at the Electoral District Boundaries Commission  www.seo.sa.gov.au).  

The Society again argued that the Commission has an unenviable task.  On a two-party preferred basis, and including Peter Lewis's figures with the ALP (as after all it was his support that allowed the ALP to form Government), on the 2002 figures the Liberals still had 50.5% of the two-party preferred vote.  

The long delay in actually forming a new government and the decision of Mr Lewis to support the Labor Party further illustrated the impossibility of the task assigned to the Boundaries Commission.  

The Society submitted that the Commission must now finally concede that it has impossible terms of reference, and the Commission should suggest that the whole method of electing the House of Assembly needs to be re-assessed.  

In August, Attorney-General Michael Atkinson announced that a Parliamentary Steering Committee chaired by Mr Lewis had been appointed to facilitate the operation of the Constitutional Convention.  A series of public meetings would be held around the State and a panel of constitutional experts gathered to write papers about aspects of the State's Constitution. The Government was reviewing options for the format, content and timing of the Convention. 


 The political wheel turns completely in Tasmania within 10 years

Barely ten years after the Field Government was ejected from office after obtaining just 29% of first preferences, campaigning on Labor's economic record under the "One Leader One Team One Direction" slogan, Jim Bacon was returned as Labor Premier in Tasmania with 51.9% of first preferences Statewide, and vote and seat majorities in every seat except Bass.  

With Liberal opinion poll standings low, observers noted that by holding the first winter election since 1979 on 20th July 2002, Mr Bacon cut short questioning over government funding for the Abt private railway and removed the risk of major catamaran builder Incat experiencing financial trouble during the campaign.  

Former Liberal Premier Tony Rundle stood down and was replaced as Opposition Leader in 1999 by Sue Napier. When the balance in the evenly-divided party room changed with Michael Hodgman's replacing Ray Groom, another former Premier, in Denison, Bob Cheek took over as Leader. Mr Cheek had crossed the floor in 1998 to support Labor's attempts to reduce House of Assembly numbers to 25, and thereby precipitated Liberal moves to adopt the changes favoured by Labor and the Legislative Council (see QN 1998C).  

There were 112 candidates, 26 fewer than four years earlier. Labor endorsed teams of six twice and the Liberals once. Five sitting members retired, including for personal reasons at the start of the campaign, young Liberal Matt Smith whose father was later acquitted of charges laid. Four others, three Liberal and one Labor, had been replaced by countback during the life of the previous Assembly. Five sitting members, four of them Liberal, were defeated in their attempts to be re-elected in the 94% turnout of voters.  

In a major debacle, Liberal support fell to 27.4%, and both Mr Cheek and his Deputy Denise Swan lost their seats narrowly to party colleagues, by 272 and 82 votes respectively. Mr Cheek later claimed that his party's disarray had caused him to spend the first week of the campaign raising finance, and as he left public life, he labelled the politics of his successor, Mr Rene (Marinus) Hidding MHA, as being "to the right of Attila the Hun". Outgoing Federal Liberal Director Lynton Crosby drew up a 94-point plan for party overhaul in August.  

The Greens, represented in the Assembly by Ms Peg Putt alone since 1998, campaigned strongly on clearfelling in old growth forests and had their theme elevated in public prominence when attacked a week prior to the polls by the chief executive of a major timber company. Their vote rose to a best ever 18.1% Statewide, leading to one seat in each electorate except Braddon. They outpolled the Liberals by nearly 2% in Denison and were 3% behind in Franklin where former State and federal Liberal Ministerial staffer Greg Barns was disendorsed in February after attacking the Prime Minister's stance on refugees.  

The Australian Democrats fielded candidates in just Bass and Franklin, polling 1.2% and 2.2% respectively.  

Eight candidates were elected on first preferences, seven Labor and one Green. Informal voting, much of it deliberate, was about 5% overall. The new Assembly contained six women, including Kathryn Hay, the first Aboriginal to succeed in being elected.  

Former Liberal staffer Brett Whiteley, last to be elected in Braddon, faced a rocky road after he distributed several thousand how-to-vote cards advocating a particular numerical order, without having sought his colleagues' permission for such use of their names. However a large margin militated against the prospect of any defeated colleague successfully challenging the outcome in the Court of Disputed Returns, and he was eventually accepted within the Parliamentary Liberal Party also. A change in the wording of the form elected candidates are required to sign also smoothed his path.  

The surprising two seats apiece for Labor and Liberal in Bass, although respective first preferences were 49.1% and 31.4%, illustrates how wrong is the belief that five-member electorates are always more likely to produce majorities than are seven-member electorates. Labor would clearly have won four of seven seats, with the Liberals getting two and the Greens one. Had seven-member electorates remained in place, the most likely statewide electoral outcome would have been a 20-9-6 victory for Labor, including a majority in each electorate, rather than the 14-7-4 result that actually occurred.  
The table below illustrates key aspects of the voting and highlights how closely the Statewide outcome mirrored voter support.  








ALP vote % 
(seat %)







Liberal vote % 
(seat %)







Greens vote % 
(seat %)







Others vote % 
(seat %)














Informal %











Irish Coalition Government returned and main Opposition given a major drubbing 

Despite widespread predictions that his new Government (see QN 1997D) would be shortlived, in May a strong economy and evidence of an Opposition in disarray were major factors in Bertie Ahern becoming the first Taoiseach (Prime Minister) re-elected since 1969.  

An extensive redistribution created one new three-member electoral district in Dublin and saw three four-member districts there each shed one TD (Teachta Dala or Lower House member), another gain one and a five-member district lose one. This meant that the 166 TDs in the 29th Dail (Lower House) were elected through quota-preferential counting from 16 three-member, 12 four-member and 14 five-member districts.  

Following extensive speculation about the possibility of Fianna Fail getting a majority in its own right, in a 63% turnout (down 3%) its vote rose 2.2% to 41.5% and 81 seats were won, up four. The governing coalition with the Progressive Democrats was maintained after they captured 4.0% of first preference votess (down 0.7%) and doubled their seats to eight.  

Illustrating the significant bonuses available in smaller electorates, particularly the guarantee of half the seats with just 40% support when there are four vacancies, Fianna Fail emerged with just over half the TDs (52%) in three-member constituencies (25 of 48), just under half (48%) in four-member constituencies (23 of 48) and finally 32 of 70 (46%) in five-member constituencies. It won a bare majority of the 119 seats outside Dublin.  

The Opposition Fine Gael, which changed leader late in 2001, was comprehensively outcampaigned and many former supporters decided to help shape the next government instead. Its national support declined from 27.9% to 22.5 %. A bigger fall of 8% to below 15% in Dublin resulted in just three TDs (instead of 12) from the 47 places, fewer than was achieved by the Labour and Green Parties and the Progressive Democrats.  

Michael Noonan resigned as Leader and was replaced by Enda Kenny following the heavy loss of frontbenchers and past and present leadership material as 23 seats were ceded largely to independents and mid-ranking parties. Both of Fine Gael's previous seats in the five-member Dun Laoghaire constituency were lost and the 31 seats that remained constituted its worst standing since 1948.  

Following its major losses in 1997, the Labour Party absorbed the Democratic Left's four TDs. While it lost a further 2.1% support to reach 10.8%, Labour maintained its overall representation at 21, including former Speaker Seamus Pattison, who was automatically elected in Carlow-Kilkenny (in line with the 1992 amendments, no votes were required and counting filled one fewer vacancy than normal). However one-time leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Dick Spring lost his Kerry seat despite obtaining 22.4% of first preferences.  

Thirty-two other incumbents lost their seats, including Mary O'Rourke, a former Deputy Leader of Fianna Fail, and two colleagues of hers also outlasted in the scrutiny by running mates originally nominated in a more concerted attempt by Fianna Fail to get an extra TD elected on the coat-tails of popular candidates.  

Overall nominations were 464, down 20 on the 1997 elections. Just 20 TDs were elected with more than a quota of first preference votes, only three of them in Dublin. Most TDs obtained strong individual support, only 17 beginning with less than 10% of first preference votes, with 5.5% support being the least of the three starts below 9%. A six-vote margin determined the last place in Cork South Central after earlier counts had produced narrower 'wins' in either direction.  

Eleven of the 13 successful Independents were from outside Dublin, and a total of 22 females (13%), an increase of two, were elected. Informal voting was generally between 1% and 1.5%, noticeably up from the average of 1% in 1997: candidates' places in a single column on the ballot-paper are determined by lot.  
The table below illustrates votes per seat and other characteristics for different parties:  


First preferences (%)

Seats won (%)

Votes per seat

Dublin vote % (seat %)

Fianna Fail 


770,826 (41.5)

81 (48.8)


37.1 (44.7)

Fine Gael 


417,653 (22.5)

31 (18.7)


14.5 (6.4)



200,138 (10.8)

21 (12.7)


14.9 (19.1)

Progressive Democrats


  73,628 (4.0)

  8  (4.8)


7.1 (8.5)


  71,480 (3.8)

  6  (3.6)


8.0 (10.6)

Sinn Fein 


121,039 (6.5)

  5  (3.0)


8.9 (4.3)



203,329 (11.0)

14  (8.4)


9.4 (6.4)

Electronic voting and counting in three districts of different size was a precursor to planned widespread usage at the 2004 local government polls. A screen showed all the candidates' names and photos beside a series of red buttons that voters pressed in their numerical order of preference. In a response to parliamentary committee recommendations, electronic voting in the chamber by TDs was among procedural reforms the Government slated for pursuit at the start of the year. 




2002 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

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