QUOTA

NOTES

 

 

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

 

                                    QN2003C

September 2003

            www.prsa.org.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria-Tasmania Branch Efforts to Alert Councils to need for Hare-Clark Features

 

 

 

The Victorian Government has made general announcements (see QN2003B) about re-introducing, in the forthcoming Spring Session of the State Parliament, its proposals for the wider use of quota-preferential proportional representation as an electoral system that municipal councils will be encouraged to adopt. The Government has referred to those proposals as being similar to its proposals rejected last year by the Legislative Council, where it lacked a majority until after the last Victorian election.

No Bill has been released publicly. Unfortunately the Minister for Local Government, Hon. Candy Broad MLC, has declined to meet PRSAV-T representatives to discuss their concerns that the draft could lack certain important Hare-Clark features. The PRSAV-T has made initial contact with the Opposition Spokesman, Mr John Vogels MLC, who has expressed interest in meeting us to hear our views. The PRSAV-T has already both posted and emailed to all Victorian municipal councils, with copies to all Victorian MPs, a letter, now on the PRSA Web site, pointing out that the Bill could lack certain specific provision for direct election of all councillors, and the Hare-Clark features of countback and Robson Rotation, which would be of great value to voters.

 

 

Call for Nominations for Elections of PRSA Office-bearers for 2004-05

 

 

 

The Returning Officer is Mr Geoffrey Lutz, Acting Secretary of the PRSA's Victoria-Tasmania Branch. Under the PRSA Constitution the Returning Officer rotates among the Branch Secretaries. The order, by precedent, is Victoria-Tasmania, 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 Lutz at 30 Schofield Street, ESSENDON VIC 3040 by 31st October 2003.

 

 

South Australia's Constitutional Convention

 

 

 

At the 2002 South Australian State elections, neither the Liberal Party nor the Labor party won an absolute majority of Lower House seats (see QN 2002C). The Independent Member for Hammond, Peter Lewis, agreed to support a Government that would promote open and accountable government and improve the democratic operation of Parliament. His proposals for reform were contained in his proposed "Compact for Good Government". After both the ALP and Liberals accepted the Compact, the Rann Labor Government was formed, and Mr Lewis was elected as Speaker.

A major part of the Compact included an undertaking to facilitate constitutional and parliamentary reform by establishing a South Australian Constitutional Convention to conduct a review of the Constitution and Parliament of South Australia. That was to include reporting on a number of issues set out by Mr Lewis in the Compact: -

  • citizen-initiated referendums;
  • reducing the number of parliamentarians;
  • constituting the Legislative Council solely as a House of Review; and
  • ensuring independence of certain public offices.

Mr Lewis wanted the proposed Convention to:

1.      advise on a responsible form of citizen-initiated referendums, and on the mechanism by which such a proposal could be implemented;

2.      consider the legislative and constitutional changes and mechanisms necessary to:

2.1    locate all Ministers in the Lower House;

2.2    move all Parliamentary Committees (with the exception of the Joint Parliamentary Services Committee) from the House of Assembly to the Legislative Council;

2.3    reduce the number of Members of Parliament in both Houses - to 35 in the House of Assembly (from 47) - and to 17 in the Legislative Council (from 22), or such other numbers as the Convention determines is desirable; and

2.4    remove all members of political parties from the Legislative Council as of the general election of March 2010 by requiring that no candidate seeking election to the Legislative Council as and from the next election may be a member of any political party registered with either Electoral Commission for the purpose of the provisions of the Electoral Act of either State or Federal Parliament; and

3.      consider the desirability of and make recommendations on:

3.1    changing the electoral system of the Legislative Council such that five members shall be elected at large at each general election and retire at the end of each term; and twelve members (two in each of six regions, each of which to be comprised for convenience initially of two House of Representatives divisions) for two terms (8 years) one such member from each region being elected at each general election;

3.2    a requirement that the President of the Council and the Presiding Members of each of the Parliamentary Committees shall be elected by the Legislative Council in session from those five members elected at large;

3.3    providing that the Auditor-General, the Ombudsman, the Employee Ombudsman, and the Police Commissioner should report to the Parliament as officers acting in the public interest, not under political control of a Minister, and to the President of the Legislative Council, and that the appointment of all these officers of the Parliament shall be reviewed and ratified by a committee elected by the Legislative Council for the purpose of doing so, instance by instance, in order to secure independence from political interference; and

3.4    establishing a convocation of Members of Parliament and Mayors of all South Australian municipalities for the purpose of recommending to the Premier a person who should be appointed Governor of the State.

Like many others in South Australia, the Electoral Reform Society was initially unsure of how to react to the Peter Lewis Compact.

While the chance to review the Constitution and Parliament was in line with the Society’s call for a review of the method of electing the Legislative Council, made during the State election campaign, the suggestion of Mr Lewis that the Legislative Council should be elected partly through a return to single-member electorates was seen as a backward step.

Committed to having a Constitutional Convention, the State Government appointed a Parliamentary Steering Committee to oversee its organization. Mr Lewis was appointed chairman of the Committee, and the other seven members appointed were Labor or Liberal MPs.

The Parliamentary Steering Committee formulated five questions to be considered at the Constitutional Convention:

1.   Should South Australia have a system of initiative and referendum (citizen-initiated referendums) and, if so, in what form and how should it operate?

2.   What is the optimum number of parliamentarians in each House of Parliament necessary for responsible government and representative democracy in the Westminster system operating in South Australia?

3.   What should the role and function of each of the Houses of Parliament be?

4.   What measures should be adopted to improve the accountability, transparency and functioning of government?

5.   What should the role of political parties in the Legislative Council be, what should the method of election to the Legislative Council be, and what should the electoral system (including the fairness test) and method of election to the House of Assembly be?

The Society was both relieved and pleased when the Parliamentary Steering Committee announced the five questions to be considered by the Constitutional Convention, as there were opportunities to closely examine the role of voters and their influence.

The Parliamentary Steering Committee appointed a panel of academic and legal experts chaired by Dr Clement Macintyre, Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Adelaide, and including former Attorneys-General Trevor Griffin and Len King, to prepare a discussion paper for both public comment and for use at the Convention.

Following publication of the discussion paper (www.constitutionalconvention.sa.gov.au/discussionpaper.pdf ) in January 2003, throughout February a series of 26 meetings in country centres and metropolitan Adelaide were held to discuss and debate all the issues identified. Nearly 1700 people attended these meetings, including representatives from the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia and the PRSA’s President (Bogey Musidlak).

In addition there was a call for public submissions. Nearly a hundred were received from groups, individuals and organizations, including from both the Electoral Reform Society of SA and the PRSA. These are all now publicly available on the website established for the Convention.

The PRSA’s submission, "A Thorough Electoral Overhaul is Essential - Further Tinkering in Search of Fairness is Pointless", showed that the system of single-member electorates operating in South Australia is beyond redemption in terms of electoral fairness and accountability.

"Far too many seats are safe for one party or another, leading to regular preselection scrambles for these and then an unhealthy campaign concentration on the small number of marginal seats that may change hands and whose fate will determine government.

Voters, who are at the periphery of this arrangement, need to be restored to a central place of influence."

The submission noted that vote wastage is minimized in multi-member electorates where quota-preferential methods of proportional representation are used, urged the adoption of the Robson Rotation and countback features of the Hare-Clark system, and slammed the current onerous requirements for recording a formal Legislative Council vote not in accordance with any registered party ticket. Both submissions argued convincingly that the quota-preferential method of proportional representation should be used for electing both Houses.

The Electoral Reform Society attached its detailed analysis of the 2002 elections to support its advocacy of quota-preferential proportional representation for both Houses. It observed that one in five attempts to vote below the line for the Legislative Council was deemed informal, decried the lack of information available to voters about the consequences of voting above the line and explained why top-up systems are inherently unsound.

On 12th July 2003, selected individuals and organizations, including the Electoral Reform Society and the PRSA, were invited to speak about their submissions to members of the Parliamentary Steering Committee.

The PRSA President, Bogey Musidlak, started with the recent hopeless record of single-member electorates in what has taken over from Victoria as the minority government State of the nation. Of the last six elections, three resulted immediately in minority governments and a fourth saw a government go into minority after a by-election loss: two of these governments, including the present one, had minority two-party-preferred support. The other two elections brought a virtual wipeout of any Opposition presence.

The lack of legitimacy is worse regionally, with the House of Assembly failing to reflect underlying voter support for parties, leaving every chance of the Liberals continuing to fail to turn majority two-party-preferred support into government if they do not win the most marginal metropolitan electorates.

Labor is down to one seat and 25% of first preferences in non-metropolitan areas, while Liberal support of 30% in Adelaide’s northern and western suburbs is completely wasted. Nothing the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission does in pursuit of its ‘fairness’ charter can overcome such major structural defects.

It was very pleasing, both at the public meetings and in the submissions, that many individuals and organizations also called for proportional representation with Robson Rotation to be used. Following councils’ positive experience with using the quota-preferential method of proportional representations to elect all local councils, the Local Government Association of SA argued strongly in support of using proportional representation for electing both Houses.

The Constitutional Convention itself was held in Adelaide from 8th to10th August 2003. It was run as a "People’s Convention", or a deliberative poll, and was organized by Issues Deliberation Australia (www.i-d-a.com.au).

A representative cross-section of 323 South Australians considered the role and function of both Houses of the South Australian Parliament, how the people are represented through the electoral system, and ways to improve the transparency and accountability of Government.

The participants were given the opportunity and the resources to consider parliamentary reform in a comprehensive, systematic way; to ask questions of competing experts and advocates; and to discuss the issues and concerns with their peers. They worked together for two days to come to an informed judgement.

Following the completion of the post-deliberation questionnaire, the representative South Australians were asked to write down their single most important priority for parliamentary reform. Similarly, in the final group discussion, the 23 groups into which they were randomly assigned were asked to make recommendations. They were specifically asked, "What would you want the Parliamentary Steering Committee and the South Australian Government to hear about your opinions on parliamentary reform in this State?"

A preliminary assessment showed that optional preferential voting was seen as a clear priority by individuals and by majorities in nearly all groups. Four-year Legislative Council terms and strengthened government accountability achieved majorities in nearly half the groups. The other results listed for individuals are not ranked in order at this stage.

            (a)        Main priorities for parliamentary reform identified by individuals:

·        optional preferential voting

·        citizen-initiated referendums

·        four-year terms for the Upper House

·        an independent Speaker

·        strengthening the accountability and transparency of Parliament

·        an increased number of MPs in the Lower House

·        multi-member electorates

·        Upper House to be a true House of Review

·        introduction of a unicameral Parliament

 

            (b)        Main priorities for parliamentary reform identified in groups

·        optional preferential voting

·        four-year terms for members of the Legislative Council

·        strengthening the accountability and transparency in government in general

·        citizen-initiated referendums

·        multi-member electorates

·        compulsory education in schools on the parliamentary system

·        independent Presiding Officer electorates

 

These results, along with information from the public submissions and public meetings, will be used by the Parliamentary Steering Committee to make recommendations to Cabinet. The recommendations of the Constitutional Convention will then be put to the Parliament.

Shortly before the Convention was held, the Electoral Reform Society issued a media release expressing confidence that the participation of ordinary voters in the Constitutional Convention would make it harder for politicians to continue to make unfair impositions on voters on election day while denying many voters real influence.

The preliminary results from the Convention have vindicated the Society’s stance. If these results are put into effect, this will do much to improve South Australia’s constitutional and parliamentary arrangements will be greatly improved by giving the voters a more effective say. That would ensure that South Australia is once again at the forefront of Australian democracy.

It is now the task of the current members of State Parliament to put aside their prejudices and the vested interests of their political parties, and to implement the results or present workable alternative solutions.

 

 

Death of the Former National Treasurer of the PRSA, Len Higgs

 

 

 

Len Higgs, who had succeeded Dr Peter Fleming to become the second National Treasurer of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia, for the ten years from 1986 to 1995, died on 7th August 2003, aged 97.

Len had also been the Treasurer of the South Australian Branch of the PRSA, the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia, from 1939 for sixty years continuously, and had retired from that position only in 1999.

Len started coming to meetings of the ERSSA with his father in the late 1920s and had been a stalwart for proportional representation ever since. Whenever possible he targeted his local MPs to ascertain their attitude to electoral reform.

There was a special celebration for Len's fiftieth year as the ERSSA Treasurer, and Len was made a Life Member of the ERSSA at that time.

In his other life, Len was involved with accountancy and plumbing (he actually did some plumbing work for Robin Millhouse at about the time Mr Millhouse introduced a Bill for proportional representation into the SA House of Assembly). His other interests included being involved with training for over fifty years at the Noarlunga Football Club, surf life saving at Moana (The Adelaide daily newspaper, "The Advertiser", featured Len in an article about surf life saving), and being the accountant for more than fifty years for the Moana Progress Association.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2003 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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