of the Proportional Representation
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,
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:
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
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 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
procedure for electing its
Office-bearers and controlling bodies.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
During 2001, tensions within the New
Labour component of the
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
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:
*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
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