Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia





December 2002



Constitution Commission Recommends Quota-Preferential PR for Upper House


Victoria's Constitution Commission (see QN2001A, QN2001C) issued a very clear and readable 99-page report, "A House for Our Future", in July 2002 in which it made recommendations about various possible reforms to the Legislative Council of Victoria that the Government had referred to it for consideration and advice on reforming legislation.

The substantial submission by the PRSA's Victoria-Tasmania Branch was listed first among the 196 formal public submissions received shown at the end of the report. The meeting the Commissioners had, at the PRSAV-T's suggestion, with the initiator of Tasmania's Robson Rotation, Hon. Neil Robson; and Mr Geoffrey Goode, both members of the PRSAV-T, was also included with the 33 other meetings cited that they had had with various individuals. In its list of 28 "Proportional Representation References" the report included the PRSA Web site (www.prsa.org.au) and two separate articles in PRSA's newsletter, Quota Notes (QN1999D, QN2000A).

A most significant reform recommended by the Commission was the replacement of the system, used since 1855, of single-vacancy "winner-take-all" elections, by a system of multi-member proportional representation elections. Furthermore the general election of the whole Legislative Council, recommended to replace the existing periodic elections of half the Council in turn, would use a quota-preferential counting system.

Rather than a Hare-Clark PR system the Commission recommended a Senate-style PR system with above-the-line (Group Voting Tickets) and below-the-line voting options. A welcome improvement on the Senate system was the recommendation that the below-the-line option should allow votes to be formal provided an unbroken preference sequence at least equal to the number of vacancies was marked.

The Commission recommended that the Senate-style ballot-paper, where the order in which candidates' names appear in a column is fixed by those candidates' common consent (that aspect dates from 1940, before PR was used for Senate elections), should apply rather than Robson Rotation (used in Tasmania since 1979 and the ACT since 1995). It qualified its support for the Senate-style ballot-paper by stating,
"At a later stage, when voters have become accustomed to the system, abolition of above-the-line voting combined with the Robson Rotation would place a greater emphasis upon the personal responsibility of the individual voter. Both reforms would tend to decrease the influence of the party machines on the final outcome and contribute to a greater sense of independence by Members of the Upper House. However, any decision on either issue is one for the future and would need to be accompanied by a major voter education campaign."

The Commission detailed four different models for the combination of the number of electoral regions and the number of MLCs per region that could reasonably be used. It, on balance, favoured the first of these - the same size as the NSW Upper House - as does the PRSAV-T:

  • Six 7-member regions               (42 MLCs)
  • Seven 7-member regions          (49 MLCs)
  • Eight 5-member regions            (40 MLCs)
  • Nine 5-member regions            (45 MLCs)

One of the weakest and least plausible recommendations and cases put by the Commission was for the filling of casual vacancies indirectly by party appointment, rather than directly by the voters, using a countback system as happens in Tasmania, the ACT and WA. It did not answer the concern about the "Senator Michael Tate" and "Senator John Herron" resignations, where those senators resigned just after starting a new 6-year elected term, leaving those that voted for them indirectly "represented", for over 99% of the 6-year term, by people that had not faced the voters.

While it recognized the need for special provisions to apply in the replacement of Independents, it was mute about situations where parties change name or become defunct. The Commission asserted,
"The Tasmanian approach also requires the retention and storage of ballot-papers for a period between general elections, at considerable cost and administrative effort, against the contingency that the ballots may be needed between elections. The Senate approach avoids these costs, because it is only when a vacancy occurs that need for the appointment mechanism arises. The cost involved in the maintenance of the ballot-papers in smaller electorates such as Tasmania or the ACT may be reasonable, however in Victoria that cost would be high."

Given Victoria's proportionately greater ability to afford storage costs than Tasmania, particularly in an electronic environment, the Commission should have accepted that Victoria's real per capita costs here would be lower than Tasmania's.

The Commission noted that some of its recommendations would entail alterations to Victoria's Constitution Act 1975, and it wisely recommended that certain "core provisions" should be entrenched and changeable only by referendum, and that certain procedural changes should only be alterable by a 3/5 majority vote in each house. It included the election of MLCs by PR from multi-member regions as a provision that should be entrenched in the Act.

A Long History of Belated Reforms: All of the 40 periodic Legislative Council elections held between 1856 and 1946 used the "winner-take-all" system that remained in operation up to the 2002 periodic election. At 7 of those 40 elections - the 7 were held before the Council election interval changed from 2 to 3 years in 1904 - polling was not required to fill any of the Council seats falling vacant. At 34 of those 40 periodic elections (85%), there were never more than half the available seats contested.

A previously restricted franchise for the Upper House was changed in 1950 so that full adult franchise applied for both houses. It was not until 1961 that the first election of the Legislative Council of Victoria occurred at which a poll was required in every seat open to election! The first fully-contested election for the Legislative Assembly was at the preceding election, in 1958. Since 1961, all seats open for election in both houses have always been contested, despite the clear futility, in many seats, of any expectation of representation for quite large minorities. Both major parties' decision to contest all seats would seem to owe more to the advent of television coverage in 1956 than a belief that extra seats could be won. Those unrepresented minorities of voters for one or other major group, summed over all seats, and added to wasted surplus votes in seats they won well, could sometimes amount to a State-wide majority of votes for a one of those major groups, despite their failing to win a majority of seats.

Reforming the Reformers: The PRSAV-T appreciates the pioneering work of a Labor MLC, the late Jack Tripovich, who stood out as a parliamentarian that recognized early the gross injustice of the treatment most electors often suffered. Jack worked with the then Secretary of the PRSA's Victorian Branch, the late Dr Kenneth Grigg, during the late 1960s and early 1970s to inform the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party of the flaws in the electoral system used for the Upper House, and also that used by the ALP for its internal elections.

The Proportional Representation Society of Victoria, which was renamed as the PRSA's Victorian Branch in 1984, and the Victoria-Tasmania Branch in 2000, was founded in 1944. Its predecessor, the Proportional Representation League of Victoria, which had been led by Sir James Barrett, a former Chancellor, and Professor Edward Nanson, a former Mathematics Professor, of the University of Melbourne, had ceased to exist in the 1930s, under the stresses of the Great Depression era.

Until the early 1970s the ALP's Victorian Branch had long used the particularly unrepresentative first-past-the-post procedure for electing its Office-bearers and controlling bodies. Australia generally abandoned that procedure for parliamentary elections in 1919. The Branch's adherence to that procedure had resulted in a long reign of a single party faction that could usually only attract some 40% of the vote yet was rewarded with all the Office-bearer positions and the lion's share of seats on the controlling bodies within the party. Well over 50% of those entitled to vote at party elections showed by their votes that they had little confidence in those elected, who also had little incentive, or basis, for being critical of the Upper House electoral system, which was fairer than the system that had given them their positions of control within the party.

The existing conservative parties were understandably well satisfied with their history of long unbroken control of the Upper House. There was thus little likelihood of reform until the impediment of the ALP's own restrictive system was removed.

A new wave of activists within the ALP appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and they helped the PRSA's Dr Ken Grigg, who was a member of the ALP, to be elected to chair a party committee to examine and report on the electoral system. Dr Grigg was able to persuade that committee to recommend a change to preferential voting for officers, and to quota-preferential proportional representation for committees. Those in power in the Victorian ALP opposed such changes, but they were overruled by the intervention of the ALP's Federal Executive, greatly encouraged by the ALP's new Federal parliamentary leader, Mr Gough Whitlam.

Reformers Installed: At the first party polls with the new electoral systems, the previous Office-bearers were replaced by reformers that showed their acceptability to the public by their subsequent electoral success for the ALP - a success that had entirely eluded the ALP during the long years of the premiership of the Liberal, Sir Henry Bolte. Officers of the PRSAV lobbied delegates at the 1985 ALP State Conference that resolved to make it Party Policy that PR should be used for the Upper House. Following that, the new Cain ALP Government introduced Bills to require that the Legislative Council be elected by a quota-preferential PR system. The Australian Democrats had announced they would not recommend Legislative Assembly preferences for any party failing to support reform of the Council. A vote in the Liberal Party Room came very close to accepting change. Many metropolitan Liberal MPs followed their leaders' views for change, but rural Liberal MPs just managed to tip the balance against change. That result, plus the solid National Party opposition, ensured that the Legislative Council, which the ALP did not then control, rejected the Bills.

Reform Stalled: Election of a Kennett Liberal Government in 1992, and again in 1996, co-incided with a marked fall in the number of Labor MLCs under the "winner-take-all" system (not used for other mainland Upper Houses), by a much larger percentage than the fall in the ALP vote. The ALP lacked a majority in each house, so moves for PR for the Upper House made no headway from 1992 to 1999.

The Liberal-National Coalition in that period received clear notice, as a result of the preceding Cain and Kirner ALP Governments' introduction of bills to introduce PR, that PR would eventuate if ever the ALP achieved a majority in both Houses. They could easily have introduced legislation the ALP would have been wary about opposing publicly that would have required a referendum before PR could come into force. Yet the Kennett Government did not entrench any provision to allow the electors specifically to veto the introduction of a system that the Coalition parties had always opposed, and campaigned against. Their failure to provide for a future change having to be put to the specific public test of a referendum, which could have been economically held in conjunction with an election, sat oddly with their repeated assertions that the established "winner-take-all" system served the public interest better, and the Coalition MPs had a need to resist PR, in the interest of the State's voters.

Reform Unstalled: The 1999 change to an ALP Government, under Steve Bracks, still without an ALP majority in the Upper House, saw a key new ingredient in the Upper House reform debate. This was the Constitution Commission, which the first Bracks Government created to investigate and report on reforms to the Upper House. It was soon seen as a departure from the partisan tussle for and against PR. The Commissioners were obviously not ALP hacks, stooges or puppets. The Chairman was a recently retired Supreme Court judge that had become a professor at Monash University. The two other members were former Ministers of the Crown, both having been Liberal MPs from Victoria - Alan Hunt in the Hamer and Thompson Victorian Governments, and Ian Macphee in the Fraser Federal Government. The Commission sensibly brought interested members of the public into the debate. It held public seminars, and published, on its website, written submissions from members of the public.

The election on 30th November 2002 (an analysis will be in QN2003A) saw the Bracks ALP Government re-elected It unexpectedly won an absolute majority of seats in both houses, and could thus alter the Constitution Act 1975.


New Zealand's Third MMP Elections Produce a New Coalition Government

After the 1999 general elections (see QN 1999D), Labour formed a coalition government with the Alliance (which was established in 1991 as an electoral third force, and registered in 1995 as an amalgam of five parties, of which two departed during 1998), with supply and confidence also guaranteed by the Green Party. New agree-to-disagree provisions at party level were inserted into the Cabinet Manual, and protocols regarding diverse collaborative participation in policy development were established.

During 2001, tensions within the New Labour component of the Alliance continued to simmer over policy directions, including the extent to which to challenge existing power structures. In April 2002, the Deputy Prime Minister, Jim Anderton, announced that he would establish a new political party to contest the next election, but would remain the Alliance's parliamentary leader for the life of the Parliament. This avoided triggering the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act 2001, newly enacted to curb the party-hopping that had brought MMP into disrepute in the previous Parliament. It requires either a by-election or replacement by a continuing list member if an MP leaves the party under which that MP was elected, or otherwise changes the party proportionality of the electoral outcome.

The Green Party, in debate on the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (Genetically Modified Organisms) Amendment Bill 2002 responding to Royal Commission recommendations, indicated it would not support ending the moratorium on commercial release of genetically-modified organisms in October 2003, and would withdraw support from any party that moved to end the moratorium.

Citing the fracture of the Alliance and unacceptable delays in passing legislation, the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, called an election for 27th July 2002, two and a half months earlier than originally envisaged. The first winter poll since 1984 marked only the third time in fifty years that a New Zealand Parliament had not run its full term.

In November 2001, the Government announced that in the absence of sufficient political consensus, no changes to MMP would be initiated as a result of the earlier statutory parliamentary review. A subsequent redistribution had added two more electorate seats, one Maori (taking the total to 7 - every five years, Maori choose whether to be on the special or general roll) and one general, leaving just 51 for distribution as party seats. For a party exceeding the 5% list threshold or winning at least one first-past-the-post electorate seat, its national party list vote (into which successive odd numbers are divided) determines the overall entitlement: the excess of that, over its number of electorate seats won, establishes its number of list seats.

Opinion polls initially placed Labour's support above 50% in June 2002, but this declined steadily, hitting 41% on election day, an improvement of about 2.5% upon its 1999 vote. This resulted in a three-seat increase to 52, including once more nearly two-thirds of the electorate seats.

Having changed leader in October 2001, the National Party appeared to be caught unawares, hastily announcing policies resembling those advocated by the liberal deregulationist ACT Party and neglecting to campaign strongly for party votes. After hovering in the mid-20s in opinion polls, its party vote slipped below 21% on election day, compared with a candidate vote of 31%. This lowest support since the party's formation in 1936 saw ten sitting MPs lose their seats while the former Reserve Bank Governor, Don Brash, entered the House of Representatives: another six MPs had retired.

Throughout the campaign, support for ACT stayed just over the 5% party list threshold for representation, but it had no prospect of being part of a governing coalition. After its major setback in 1999 following the shenanigans during the first MMP Parliament, the New Zealand First Party, led by one-time National Minister and later coalition Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, focused intensively on immigration and law and order themes, and more than doubled its vote to above 10%.

Results for successful parties are summarized below:



Party votes

% votes 

(1999 votes)



List seats

Total seats 


















New Zealand First








ACT New Zealand








Green Party








United Future (*)








Jim Anderton's

Progressive Coalition



(Alliance 7.7)




(Alliance 10)









*As United New Zealand and Future New Zealand ran separately in 1999, the latter is included under ‘Other’ in that year.

 During the campaign, Green support touched 11% in opinion polls before falling to 7% in the last fortnight following suspicious public reaction to the release of a book making serious allegations about the authorities' acceptance of genetically-contaminated food. Over the same period, after a televised debate in which 'the worm' operated by uncommitted voters responded positively to the statements of one-time Labour MP, Peter Dunne, the merged United Future Party came from nowhere, continued to climb on an appeal to 'commonsense', and appeared headed for nine seats on election night.

Special votes (from overseas, absent voters and where enrolments made between nomination day and the day before polling are held to be valid) saw the Green Party's numbers rise by one for the second election running, to nine, at the expense of United Future, one of whose candidates turned out to be not a New Zealand citizen and withdrew her nomination before the declaration of the poll. The split in the Alliance meant that either faction's continuation in Parliament depended on whether the respective Ministerial leaders, Laila Harre and Jim Anderton, retained their electorate seats. Both faced strong competition from Labour. The former lost by 2,000 votes in Waitakere and the latter won by nearly 3,000 in Wigram, thus turning 1.75% party support into two seats.

Mid-winter conditions contributed to a low 77% national turnout (down from nearly 85%), including just 69% in Auckland and 54% in the Maori seats all won by Labour. Votes excluded from the distribution of seats fell below 5% for the first time. Informal voting was 0.4% for party votes and 1.3% in electorate seats: each voter is asked to mark two ticks on the ballot-paper - just over 60% marked the same party in both parts, down 5% from 1999. Among the 120 MPs elected were 34 women, 19 Maori, 3 Pacific Islanders, two Asians and the first-ever Muslim. 23 MPs were formerly in business, 22 have been teachers and 12 were once practising as lawyers.

After relatively smooth negotiations, on 13th August 2002 Ms Clark announced the formation of a minority coalition government with Jim Anderton's Progressive Coalition, with support from United Future on confidence, supply and generally procedural motions dealing with urgency of legislation. The Government's program explicitly recognized various priorities of both the other parties.

The Prime Minister announced, 14 days later, 3 categories of ongoing constructive engagement with the Green Party, including circumstances where it could expect a strong input into Government policy deliberations. As confidence and supply were not guaranteed, access to Budget funding for certain minor initiatives would not continue.




Copyright © 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

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