Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia





December 2003






Federal Government Promotes Discussion of Altering Section 57 of the Constitution


Addressing the Sydney Institute in April 2003, the Minister for Finance and Administration, Senator Nick Minchin, claimed "the Senate has also become something of an institutional constraint on fiscal discipline", "by opposing sensible new controls on spending, and by insisting on significant new money as the price of other reforms". 

His view was that "ultimately something must be done to resurrect the mathematical possibility that a Government can win a Senate majority - a possibility lost when the Hawke Government increased the number of senators". 

In his June closing address to the Liberal Party National Convention, Prime Minister John Howard stressed the importance of "policies which maintain the affordability of things like the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and our national health arrangements". 

He complained that the Senate "so far from being a States' House or a House of review has become a House of obstruction", but added that it would be "unfair" and "undemocratic" to "alter the voting system for electing senators and to make it harder thereby for minor parties to win seats in the Senate". 

Instead, he referred to the "nugget" of the 1959 proposal of a joint parliamentary committee on constitutional reform to have joint sittings of the House of Representatives and Senate to make laws "without the necessity to hold a double dissolution". He stated that a discussion paper on the breaking of deadlocks would be prepared and foreshadowed the possibility of a referendum if there was "a reasonable prospect of community support". 

On 8th October 2003, Mr Howard released "Resolving deadlocks: a discussion paper on section 57 of the Australian Constitution" (www.dpmc.gov.au/pdfs/ResolvingDeadlocks.pdf).  

Section 57 provides for disagreements between the House of Representatives and the Senate to be resolved by a double dissolution election, and a subsequent joint sitting of both Houses if necessary.

The first option canvassed in the discussion paper would allow the Governor-General to convene a joint sitting of both Houses to consider a deadlocked bill, without the need for an election. The second option, advanced by former ALP Attorney-General Michael Lavarch, would allow the Governor-General to convene a joint sitting of both Houses after an ordinary general election. 

Mr Howard has appointed a consultative group, chaired by former Liberal Deputy Leader and Minister, Hon. Neil Brown QC, and including Hon. Michael Lavarch and law professor and former Ombudsman, Professor Jack Richardson, which has conducted public meetings in each capital city on matters raised in the discussion paper. The group will report to Mr Howard on its activities and public consideration of the issues raised by the discussion paper. 

At the meeting held in Adelaide, ex-senator Chris Schacht said that the deadlocks problem was due to the differences in the method of electing the two Houses. A member of the public suggested that there should be an annual referendum day to vote on all bills rejected during the year. 

As alternatives to the Government's options for resolving deadlocks, political parties have released their own discussion documents. The ALP insists on the removal of the Senate's power to block supply, and on instituting fixed four-year terms for both the House of Representatives and the Senate as part of any reform. The Australian Democrats propose an election-day referendum on disputed legislation. They couple that provision with proposals for four-year fixed terms for the House of Representatives, and for the declaration of war and adoption of international treaties to each require prior parliamentary approval. The Australian Greens (see article below) believe that the single most important reform is to introduce proportional representation for the House of Representatives. The One Nation party has called for the introduction of the Citizen Initiated Referendum as a means to break any deadlocks and to allow the people to be consulted.  

On 22nd October 2003, the ACT Legislative Assembly passed a motion, proposed by Greens MLA Kerrie Tucker and supported by the ACT Labor Government and the Democrat MLA, supporting "the role of the Senate as an essential check on the power and the Executive of the Federal Government and as a mechanism for ensuring responsible and accountable government". The Assembly rejected the Prime Minister's proposal and affirmed "the role of proportional representation as an electoral system which, through awarding representatives in proportion to shares of votes, ensures a democratic legislature". 

The PRSA has made a submission to the consultative group committee pointing out the importance of the Senate but suggesting that the current method of election needs to be urgently modified so that, ordinarily, odd numbers of Senators are elected from each State. Currently there are six Senators elected from each State at each half-Senate election, which means it is very difficult for a political party to gain a majority of seats (to win 4 seats requires 57% support).


National Office-bearers for 2004-05




The Returning Officer for the recent elections of PRSA National Office-bearers, Mr Geoff Lutz, has declared the candidates below elected for the term 1st January 2004 to 31st December 2005, as follows: 

National President:             Mr Bogey Musidlak 
National Vice-President:     Mr Deane Crabb 
National Secretary:             Dr Stephen Morey 
National Treasurer:             Mr Robert Forster 

The positions were filled unopposed, except for the position of National Vice-President, where there were two candidates. Deane Crabb received 36 votes, and Geoffrey Goode received 26 votes. 

Deane Crabb was National Secretary 1996-2003, is also Secretary of the South Australian Branch of the PRSA, and has been a frequent contributor to Quota Notes. Stephen Morey is Secretary of the Victoria-Tasmania Branch, and is a Research Fellow in linguistics at La Trobe University in Victoria. Geoffrey Goode was National Vice-President 1994-2003, and National President 1985-93.


High Court Decision on WA Electoral Bills




On 13th November 2003 the Full Court of the High Court of Australia disallowed an appeal by Western Australia's Gallop ALP Government against earlier declarations by the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Western Australia that it was not lawful for the Clerk of the WA Parliaments to present either the Electoral Distribution Repeal Bill 2001 or the Electoral Amendment Bill 2001 to the Governor for the Royal Assent. 

The first of those bills sought to repeal the Electoral Districts Act 1947, which entrenches a two-zone basis for distribution of electoral enrolments among districts and provinces, and permits a tolerance in enrolment inequality for the electorates in each zone of 15% above or below the mean. The second of those bills sought to replace that Act, once repealed, with an Act that would create the same mean enrolment State-wide and institute a smaller tolerance between electoral enrolments for both Houses, thus ending vote weighting in favour of rural electors. 

The Labor Party has been trying to achieve laws for a uniform low tolerance in enrolments for both WA Houses since 1913. Both courts ruled that the present bills could not be lawfully presented to the Governor for signature as, although they had each passed the Legislative Assembly by an absolute majority of votes, neither had passed the Legislative Council by such a majority, instead passing there by a simple majority of 17-16, rather than an absolute majority of 18 votes, as required by an entrenchment provision in the Electoral Districts Act 1947

WA's Constitution Act 1889 provides that the President of the 34-member Legislative Council, currently Labor's John Cowdell, is only entitled to vote if the vote on the floor of the House is tied. Although the ALP and its supporters on this issue amount to 18 MLCs, which is a bare absolute majority of the House, there are only 17 supporters on the floor of the House, which is one short of the absolute majority required there. 

The Greens rejected Labor's proposal to amend the Constitution Act 1889 to give the President a deliberative rather than just a casting vote, for which no special majority would be required. A similar provision on the voting power of the presiding officer applies to the House of Representatives and most Australian legislative chambers, although it has never applied for the Senate. 

Only one judge in each of the Full Courts dissented from the majority. The High Court heard cases put not only by the applicant, the WA Attorney-General, but also, as amici curiae, by representatives of the political parties that were opposed to the bills, the Liberals, Nationals and One Nation. 

Justice Michael Kirby, in his dissenting judgement, noted that the 1947 Act that contained the entrenching provision had itself been able to be passed without any special majority, and it had not earned any special status such as approval at a referendum. 

Major distortions between votes and seats have regularly occurred in both rural and metropolitan areas, and 'one vote, one value' cannot be achieved in single-member electorates. Nevertheless, in electoral terms the residents of Western Australia will continue to live in the nineteenth century until a sufficiently large majority of MLCs are elected to end weighting of enrolments. 

One consequence of the ruling might be to confirm the basis of the entrenchment of PR in Victoria, which was achieved by similar means to that in WA.


Greens Discussion Paper and their Bill for a Royal Commission on PR for the House of Representatives




In October 2003 the Australian Greens released a Discussion Paper "Greater Democracy for the House of Representatives". It began with the declaration, "The single most important reform for achieving true democracy in Australia is to introduce proportional representation into the House of Representatives." The paper, on their Web site, notes the widespread use of PR in modern democracies, and states, "Like suffrage for women and the secret ballot it is a fundamental to achieving the modern democratic ideal of one person, one vote, one value." 

The paper states that the Greens advocate proportional representation on a whole of state basis as the Constitution provides, and guided by the principles of the single transferable vote principles of the "Hare-Spence-Clark" system. 

The paper explains the need for proportional representation, quotes Australian initiatives and success with PR at State and Territory level, and highlights the fact that the Australian Constitution allows the use of PR for each House of the Parliament. 

The paper suggests four PR options for proportional representation:

1. A whole-of-state basis.
2. Multi-member divisions with seven members as much as practicable, but having a smaller, odd number where necessary. [I think this is a fair summary of something that has not been stated very clearly]
3. If the requirement in Section 29 of the Constitution "A division shall not be formed out of parts of different States" were repealed, the nation could be divided into 7-member divisions, except for Tasmania, which would not be presently entitled to exceed its guaranteed minimum of 5 MHRs. An alternative would be to have thirty 5-member divisions.
4. A "Mixed Member Proportional" system as in New Zealand

Option 2 closely mirrors the system long advocated by the Proportional Representation Society of Australia and election analyses on our Web site show how recent federal elections could have resulted if this system had applied. It is well suited to using Hare-Clark rules proven in Tasmania and the ACT. 

Option 1 would have New South Wales become a single 50-member division, which would result in a ballot-paper with hundreds of candidates listed. That is a scenario that would, in practice, see voters being left ticking boxes for parties' Group Voting Tickets and being left without any substantial interaction between themselves and the candidates, and it is not favoured by the PRSA. 

Option 3 is not objected to, but the need to achieve an alteration of the Constitution creates obvious difficulties. 

Option 4 is opposed by the PRSA as it would leave about half of the MHRs still not elected by PR, and, if the remainder were allocated on the basis of party lists, those MHRs would not be "members directly chosen by the people" as required by Section 24 of the Constitution. 

The Royal Commission (House of Representatives Elections) Bill 2003, to promote PR for the House of Representatives, introduced by the Australian Greens MHR for Cunningham, Michael Organ, received its first reading on 1st December 2003. The Bill reads:  

A Bill for an Act to provide for the appointment of a Royal Commission to investigate the implementation of a system of proportional representation for elections for the House of Representatives, and for related purposes.  

The Parliament of Australia enacts: 

1 Short title   
This Act may be cited as the Royal Commission (House of Representatives Elections) Act 2003.  

2 Commencement  
This Act commences on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.  

3 Purpose of Act  
The purpose of this Act is to establish a Royal Commission of inquiry to determine an appropriate model and method of implementation of a system of proportional representation for the conduct of elections of the House of Representatives, pursuant to section 29 of the Constitution.  

4. Appointment and Powers of the Royal Commission 

(1) The Governor-General is, by force of this section, empowered to issue, by Letters Patent in the name of the Queen, a Commission, directed to such person as he thinks fit, requiring or authorizing that person to make inquiry and report on subjects specified in the Letters Patent, being -  

(a) The inadequacies of the current electoral system employed by the House of Representatives, including but not being limited to: 

(i) the reasons that have permitted Governments to be formed in the House of Representatives without a majority of the Australian electorate voting for that Government; and 

(ii) the unreasonable quantity of voters that receive no representation for their chosen candidate or party in House of Representatives elections. 

(b) The benefits of reforming the current electoral system employed by the House of Representatives to enable:

(i) the Government of the day to have the support of the majority of the Australian electorate; 

(ii) all voters to be represented by their candidate of choice as far as is reasonably practicable; and 

(iii) an assessment of the merits and alternative versions of elections that could be conducted using a system of proportional representation.


(2) The Commissioner so appointed has all the powers, rights and privileges which are specified in the Royal Commissions Act 1902, as appertaining to a Royal Commission and the provisions of that Act have effect as if they were enacted in this Act and in terms made applicable to the Commissioner. 
The PRSA welcomed this initiative with a media release declaring "Only proportional representation gives 'one vote, one value', as effective voting levels are maximized no matter where people live". 

Single-member electorates are mostly safe for one of the two major parties. In 1990 and 1998 the incumbent government was returned despite having minority two-party-preferred support. Labor was virtually wiped out in many regions in 1996, and the 20% of voters for neither Labor nor the Coalition see few MHRs elected as a result. 

The release noted that "The large parties jealously guard the rules of the electoral system to preserve their advantages," and concluded with "Real influence must be restored to voters everywhere through effective voting. Then all parties and candidates will have an incentive to do better in every electorate. Otherwise media posturing and concentration on the narrow band of voters who determine the most marginal seat outcomes will increase disaffection among ever-larger numbers of voters."




Northern Ireland Assembly Polls Show Much Hardening of the Main Opposing Viewpoints 




Commentators on the results of the quota-preferential proportional representation polls held in November 2003 in the 18 six-member districts that elect the Northern Ireland Assembly highlighted the increased percentage of the vote, and hence increased Assembly presence, for candidates of the two most uncompromising of the main political parties in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party. In the DUP stronghold of North Antrim, the DUP leader, Rev. Ian Paisley, and his son, Ian Paisley, were both elected, along with a third DUP candidate. 


Ulster Assembly





% votes

% seats

% votes

% seats

Democratic Unionist Party





Ulster Unionist Party





Sin Féin





Social Democratic and Labour Party





Alliance Party of Northern Ireland





Other Unionist Parties










NOTE:  The largest two 'Other Unionist Parties' were the United Kingdom Unionists and the Progressive Unionist Party.

* 'Others' include the two seats won by the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition in 1998, and a West Tyrone independent in 2003.

The Assembly districts suffer the same problem as has occurred at periodic Senate elections in Australia since 1984. A small majority of the vote can receive the same representation as the minority, because an even number of representatives is elected. That weakness does not occur if the number to be elected is an odd number.




Synod Unrest Prompts Review of PR Law




The October 2003 meeting of the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne was asked, and agreed, to support a motion to review the quota-preferential system of proportional representation that the Synod has used for its elections since 1992 (See QN 64), and to recommend changes to the diocesan legislation if desirable.

The November 2003 issue of the diocese's monthly newspaper, The Melbourne Anglican, reported, under the headline "Voting favours factions", on the following lines as follows:

Synod passed a motion asking Archbishop in Council to examine the Synod voting system and report back to Synod 2004, with draft legislation if necessary. Proposer of the motion, Mr Colin Reilly, said that while he was a member of the committee that recommended the current voting system in 1991, he now believed that it had "not served the Diocese well. It has given undue influence to organized factions or parties within the Synod."

He said his analysis of the tally sheets in major elections, such as Council of the Diocese and General Synod, suggested there are two organized Synod factions existed in the Synod, and “those organized tend to sweep the pool.” He said that while he believed "there is a role for parties in our church (it is difficult to imagine Melbourne without them), we should not let them have undue influence on our election processes."

The motion also calls for clarification as to how the voting system works. In seconding the motion, the Revd Cathy Laufer asked for a straw poll on how many people believed they could explain with confidence the voting system to new members of Synod. Very few hands went up.

The PRSA gave welcome advice prior to 1992 to members of the Synod and the Council of the Diocese about PR that helped it to be adopted, and it hopes to have a chance to refute some of the criticisms that have emerged, specially particularly in relation to alleged tendencies to "sweep the pool".




WA's Public Funding and Four-year Terms 




In October 2003, the Western Australian Government introduced, without prior publicity, legislation for public funding of electoral campaigns and fixed four-year terms. Private negotiations among parties, and claimed understandings or agreements, are hardly "Open Government", and that did not impress some sections of the media. 

This was hardly "Open Government", and that did not impress some sections of the media. 

The State's daily newspaper vehemently opposed the proposal, decrying it as a 'poll tax', even though the cost amounted to only 32 cents per head each year. The breaking of the news precipitated a letter writing frenzy to the West Australian newspaper, which stated that about 300 letters were against public funding and 12 in favour. 

The furore created had its repercussions at a parliamentary Liberal Party meeting, resulting in withdrawal of their support and the leader, Colin Barnett, almost losing his job. Labor and the Greens have the numbers to pass the legislation, but without bipartisan support, the Government will only proceed with fixed four-year terms.




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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