Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia


QN2004B                  June 2004                www.prsa.org.au

PM admits lack of public support for change to Section 57 of the Constitution



The Prime Minister, John Howard, tabled the final report of his Consultative Group on Constitutional Change (QN2004A) in Federal Parliament on 1st June 2004. The report, on proposals to alter Section 57 of the Australian Constitution relating to disagreements between the two Houses of the Parliament, was entitled, “Resolving Deadlocks”.


The PM said, “The introduction of proportional representation in the Senate, combined with the move in 1983 to 6 senators being elected from each state at a half Senate election rather than 5, has made it almost impossible for any government to obtain a majority in the Senate in its own right. A party now needs 57.16% (sic) of the vote in a state at a half Senate election to win a majority of seats in that state. … The Consultative Group concluded there is not ‘any substantial measure of support for either of the two options presented in the discussion paper’. As a result the government is not proposing a referendum on this issue at the next election.”


The Consultative Group’s Report said that it had conducted public meetings in State and Territory centres, but that the highest attendance was in Melbourne, where some sixty members of the public attended. The Group received 293 submissions, including one from the PRSA and one from SA’s Electoral Reform Society.


Publication just before Easter on the Web site of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet of a variety of Report particulars, but without links to mentioned documents, prompted the PRSA President, Bogey Musidlak, to enquire about the status of the new material, which quickly vanished during April. The Age ran an accurate story about the original plan running out of puff, and the recommendation of a program of education and consultation about Section 57 and other constitutional issues more generally.


The Group, of three, included ex-ministers Neil Brown and Michael Lavarch. The other member, Professor Jack Richardson, Secretary of the 1959 Joint Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform, wrote of a WA submission about the 22 minor party and independent senators elected in the last 4 Senate polls, with only 2 polling the “required 14.28% quota of primary votes alone and six had less than half a quota. In a double dissolution election in 1987, when the quota became virtually halved (7.69%), one candidate was elected with only 2.5% of the primary vote, and that such candidates owed their election to the distribution of preferences.” He also wrote, “It is my view that the time is about ripe for the existing system of electing senators to be critically assessed as objectively as possible and away from flamboyant demonstrations in its favour. One suggestion is that parliament should examine its powers under Section 7 of the Constitution to divide each state into separate Senate electorates. Another suggestion is that Senate candidates (sic) should have to achieve a fixed threshold vote, for example of the order of 10%, before being eligible for election. Various European electoral systems, including federal Germany, have such provisions.”


Suggestions about artificial barriers to election are often based on a confusion between non-preferential party list systems where votes for sub-threshold parties are simply wasted, and our direct preferential voting for individual candidates required by Section 7 of the Constitution. In Australian Senate polls, a quota is, and should be, equally valid whether it consists entirely of first preference votes, or mostly of later preferences. ACT experience with the discredited d’Hondt system that included an election threshold for groups or independents illustrated how such systems can result in a handful of votes determining several vacancies.



Law amended to set aside an Australian Electoral Commission redistribution



The 2003 Final Northern Territory Redistribution issued by the Australian Electoral Commission was to reduce the number of Lower House divisions from two to one. The “latest available statistics” the AEC used showed that the NT’s population had not increased as fast as Australia’s, and was 295 people below the figure needed to justify two seats.


David Tollner, Country-Liberal Party MHR for Solomon, reacted by introducing a Bill to require a minimum of two NT seats. The Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters examined his Bill in 2003. It recommended, rather than his Bill, a Bill to establish more precisely the statistics to be used by the AEC in redistributions generally. That Bill focussed on statistical confidence intervals for population counts, and on the timing of the “availability” of those statistics.


The Bill recommended by the JSCEM to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 was not opposed by any party in the Parliament and was passed as the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Representation in the House of Representatives) Act 2004. It received Royal Assent on 20th April 2004. Its long-term purpose is to improve and clarify the single-member redistribution process, which was accepted by MPs that spoke on the Bill. Those improvements relate to future redistributions Australia-wide, and do not by themselves affect the determination for a single NT division at the next poll, but a separate section of the Act also implements the short-term intention of many members by specifically setting aside the AEC’s 2003 Northern Territory Redistribution and requiring that the previous Redistribution, which provided for two NT divisions, will apply for the next federal election.


Peter Andren, Independent MHR for Calare, speaking on the section of the Bill setting aside the 2003 NT Redistribution, voiced what many might have sensed when he reminded MHRs of the bad practices of many earlier Australian parliaments in arbitrarily legislating to establish particular numbers of seats in certain areas. That came to be recognized as opportunistic malapportionment that needed to be prevented by devolving the entire procedure to a permanent Electoral Commission required to implement regularly a prescribed widely-accepted objective redistribution process for particular electoral arrangements.


Mr Andren also told the House, “I am an unwavering proponent of proportional representation as the only way of delivering proper and fair representation to the electorate.”



Improved transfer value proposed in WA



After the 2001 Legislative Council elections, concerns over the method used to transfer surplus votes of elected candidates in the Mining and Pastoral Region were raised in the Western Australian Parliament. A number of ballot-papers increased in value when the unweighted Senate-based formula set out in the legislation was applied after one count.


The WA Electoral Commission subsequently commissioned Dr Narelle Miragliotta to prepare a research paper on the five most recognized methods for transferring the surplus votes of elected candidates. The Proportional Representation Society of Australia was contacted for its thoughts and views prior to the release in July 2002 of the publication Determining the Result: Transferring Surplus Votes in the Western Australian Legislative Council.


Focussing on whether all papers for an elected candidate are transferred or just some, whether some ballot-papers can increase in value, and how readily a particular approach could be applied without computers, that report set out the pros and cons of each approach. Under consideration were random selection (the old Senate method still used in NSW Upper House and municipal elections), the Gregory transfer (limiting attention to the last parcel of votes received by an elected candidate), the current unweighted Senate procedure (dividing a surplus by the total number of ballot papers received), a Weighted Inclusive Gregory approach (under which previous transfer values are all scaled back to the same degree) and the Meek procedure (under which elected candidates continue to receive further votes and recalculations are iterated).


After withdrawal of more extensive legislation (QN2003D), on 21st November 2003, WA’s Attorney-General, Jim McGinty, introduced the Electoral and Constitution Amendment Bill 2003, for four-year terms ending on the third Saturday in February (Legislative Council terms would end on 21st March rather than 21st May). The Bill also makes it easier to vote before polling day, and changes the transfer value definition from the current anomalous one of dividing a surplus by the total number of ballot-papers received to one where previous transfer values are all multiplied by a surplus fraction arising from the election of a new candidate.


The proposed Weighted Inclusive Gregory method would prevent ballot-papers increasing in value during a scrutiny. Officially described as a “minor revision of the counting method for the Legislative Council”, this amendment would be a welcome change, viewed by the PRSA with a sense of optimism that similar faulty definitions in other jurisdictions and for Senate elections will not persist much longer. Although the Bill is not an immediate legislative priority of the Gallop Government, the importance of this reform has been conveyed to WA parliamentarians.



Victoria’s Municipal Electoral Systems Are Still Being Settled on a Case-by-Case Basis!



Under Victoria’s former Local Government Act 1958, every municipal council had been required to hold annual elections, for a three-year term of office, for the third of the seats that had been longest without an annual election. Most municipal councils in Victoria were divided into wards, each electing three councillors. Majority-preferential counting applied.


A few provincial cities, and only one  metropolitan council, chose to be unsubdivided, so that each year a third of the council was elected as a group with the whole municipal area being a single electorate. The majority-preferential electoral system applied, but in its multiple form, which was the winner-take-all system used to fill each State’s multiple Senate positions from 1919 to 1948, before the introduction of the present system of quota-preferential proportional representation. Under that winner-take-all system - long ago discredited for the Senate - a ticket with 51% support (possibly much less on first preferences) wins all seats.


The Cain ALP Government (QN43 & QN 65) lacked a Legislative Council majority. It thus could not achieve a PR option in its Local Government Act 1989, but it did introduce triennial elections. These were mandatory for the City of Melbourne, but were an optional alternative to annual elections for other councils. There were not many triennial polls, which could only be winner-take-all group polls, held.


From 1993, the Kennett Liberal Government began wide-ranging changes. The 200-odd municipalities were reduced to 80, and councillors were replaced by three Government commissioners in each municipality that had by 1997 set, within legislated limits, but on an ad hoc basis, the number of wards, and the number of councillors in each. The result was a wide range of different structures. Some councils had 5, 7, 9, 10 or even 11 single-member wards, some had combinations of 1, 2 and 3-member wards, and some had no wards. Wherever two or more councillors were elected in a ward, the old multiple majority-preferential system applied.


The Kennett Government, with a majority in each House, surprised many people by its 1995 passage of Victoria’s first law to explicitly require quota-preferential proportional representation (QN78), which required a PR system for filling 5 of the Melbourne City Council’s 9 seats. The Kennett Government surprised people again (QN1997D) with a 1997 act that empowered the Minister for Local Government to order, for any council, that some or all of its seats be filled by PR. That power was only used for two councils.


In 2001 (QN2001B) the Bracks ALP Government, although lacking a majority in each House, managed to amend the Local Government Act 1989 to have Melbourne City Council unsubdivided. The Lord Mayor and Deputy are now elected jointly, and join the 7 ordinary councillors, who are elected by PR, but with a NSW-style Group Voting Ticket option that fortunately does not apply to any other Victorian council yet.


Just before the 2002 State election, the Bracks Government introduced a Bill to allow quota-preferential PR as an election option. The other parties, in their last months of having a majority in the Upper House, rejected the Bill.


During 2003, the PRSA’s Victoria-Tasmania Branch (PRSAV-T) lobbied the Government, Opposition and Independent MPs for the introduction of:


·    Consistent electoral arrangements across the State, namely quota-preferential PR for all municipalities, with wards represented by an odd number of councillors, with a minimum of three,

·     The use of Robson Rotation, and

·     Countback to fill casual vacancies.


Unfortunately, the PRSAV-T was only partially successful in arguing for consistency, but at least provision for PR, and for countback, was made. Robson Rotation was not introduced.


Early in the new Parliament, in which the re-elected Bracks Government had a majority in each House, the Local Government Act 1989 was amended to provide that, when two or more seats are to be filled together, proportional representation is the only system to be used, and that casual vacancies there are to be filled by countback, unless that is impracticable. It is regrettable that the single-member ward option persists, and that Robson Rotation was not introduced.


Rather than introducing a consistent system of quota-preferential PR for the whole State, as both major parties have accepted in Tasmania, the legislation required that:


·     each municipality must undergo an Electoral Representation Review, at which members of the public may submit their views about how the system of election should be conducted,

·     a government Electoral Commission should then develop a recommendation to the Minister, and

·     the Minister would, after considering that recommendation, issue an order determining the electoral system to be used in that municipality.


The reviews, to be at intervals of eight years or less, began with Surf Coast Shire. Encouragingly, an unsubdivided council, electing nine councillors by proportional representation, was recommended.


The amended act also now provides that, beginning in 2008, all municipal elections will be held concurrently, every four years, on the last Saturday in November. As Victoria’s Constitution Act 1975 now requires that, beginning in November 2006, general elections for both Houses of the State Parliament are to be held concurrently every four years on the last Saturday in November, State and all municipal elections will neatly alternate every even-numbered year.


In early 2004, there were reviews of 9 other councils, encompassing urban, provincial city and rural councils, and the PRSAV-T made submissions at each stage of the process. Unfortunately the recommendations are a mixture of single-member electorates, unsubdivided councils electing 7 or 9 members, 3-member wards and some mixed systems. The most bizarre recommendation is probably for Moreland Council, in Melbourne’s north, which will have two wards each electing 4 members and one electing 3.


Even numbers of councillors in a ward can, if a majority viewpoint is fairly small, give distorted results in which a minority of the vote can gain the same representation as an absolute majority of the vote.


The PRSAV-T applauds the move to PR, and the end of the winner-take-all system for multi-member districts. It will seek a consistent straightforward system, with a council’s electoral district(s) required to have the same odd number of seats, being three or more. The PRSAV-T will monitor the results of the first elections under the new system, in November 2004.



Ending WA malapportionment by a federal law needs further work



While the attempted passage of State legislation amending Western Australia’s current weighting of enrolments was being played out in the courts (see QN2003D), Australian Democrat Senator Andrew Murray’s State Elections (One Vote, One Value) Bill 2001 [2002] was referred to the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional References Committee. Based on a mid-90s WA Commission on Government report, the Bill sought to use Australia’s accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which confers the right “to vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage”, as the basis for overturning all such arrangements.


The PRSA and its WA and SA Branches made brief submissions in October 2003 showing major flaws in the way the legislation could work (www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/s-lc.htm). The Australian and ACT Electoral Commissions and Tasmanian Electoral Office also raised some of these matters, and voiced additional concerns about the basis for making population projections and their timing, confusion or uncertainty over various terms, and potential consequences of judicial review in some cases.


The PRSA’s WA Branch pointed out the “obvious loophole” in the proposed legislation enabling a malapportionment to be generated by “having equal-sized electorates with different numbers of seats”. It suggested drafting that did not assume the same number of members being elected from each district.


The PRSA’s SA Branch stated that in both the ACT Legislative Assembly and the WA Legislative Council, the number of members varies among electorates whereas the Bill “presumes that all electorates return the same number of parliamentarians”. It noted the failure in SA of single-member electorates with equalized enrolments to give a party with over 50% of the two-party-preferred vote a majority of seats. It said a term like “equal number of voters” was more appropriate than “one vote, one value” in the title.


The PRSA submission also started with the inappropriateness of such wording in the light of single-member outcomes. In 1996 the Coalition parties turned a combined 46% of first preferences into 60% of the WA Legislative Assembly seats, while in 2001 Labor converted 37% of first preferences into 56% of seats.


Imbalances between votes and seats in metropolitan and rural areas in 2001 were starker. For instance, Labor won 70% of the metropolitan Assembly seats with 40% of first preferences (and, more fairly, 47% of the metropolitan Council seats with 41% of first preferences). Liberals gained 32% of first preferences and won 20% of metropolitan Assembly seats, yet 29% support in rural areas was enough for 39% of Assembly seats there. Nationals won 22% of rural Assembly seats after obtaining nearly 13% of first preferences, whereas One Nation had 16% support there, but won no seats.


The key provision in the proposed Bill was so poorly drafted that “it would invalidate the ACT’s Hare-Clark system while making it possible for quite large levels of what is called vote weightage to persist for Western Australia’s Legislative Council, albeit in a form a little different from what currently applies separately in metropolitan and rural areas”.


The norm was assumed to be four-year terms, despite a 3-year limit in the ACT then, and in Queensland. Equalization of enrolments seemed to occur 4 years beyond the next election “whereas typically redistributions comply with specifications of allowable tolerances at the time new boundaries are determined, and differences in projected enrolment numbers at the anticipated time of the next election”. Provided that all the separate regions satisfied the criterion of having essentially the same enrolment, nothing in the Bill “would stop the assignment of nine or eleven MLCs to each rural region and only three or five to each metropolitan one”.


The PRSA concluded that the Bill’s “articulated intentions can only be effected by building the enrolment quota criteria around a calculation that sets a Statewide quota at total enrolments at some point in time, divided by the total number of MPs in a particular chamber, and multiplies this by the number of members to be returned in each electorate” and referred to the specifics of ACT legislation as a model for doing so.


Limited public hearings were held in February 2004, allowing Australian and ACT electoral officials to expand on how problem areas in the proposed legislation might be addressed, and taking legal views on potential constitutional obstacles to the Commonwealth passing legislation imposing electoral requirements on the States, and how these might best be avoided.


In its report tabled on 3rd March 2004 the Legal and Constitutional References Committee included extracts from the submissions of the WA and SA Societies and the PRSA. It endorsed the principle the State Elections (One Vote, One Value) Bill 2001 [2002] sought to implement, but recommended that the Bill not be agreed to because of fundamental technical and constitutional problems. The Committee suggested consideration of the Bill being redrafted to express the enrolments equalization principle in generality or of the principle being included in broader Commonwealth legislation enshrining human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


Senator Murray - a member of the Committee for this Inquiry - wrote that he agreed with the report and its findings, and would rework the Bill “not just to enshrine in Australian law the most fundamental of universal political rights and principles”, but also “to try and implement the recommendations of the Western Australian Commission on Government 1995-96”.



The 2004 Lok Sabha elections in India



The PRSA National Secretary, Dr Stephen Morey, was in India during the 2004 elections of the Indian Lower House, the Lok Sabha. He said, “It was the biggest election in world history, with 671,524,934 eligible voters. India has 543 single-member divisions. Each of the 35 states or Union Territories has at least one member. There is a great malapportionment of the electorates. For example in Tamil Nadu state, Coimbatore has over 3 million voters, but Namakkal division has only 1.2 million. These huge electorates need to be compared to the smallest, Lakshadweep, with 39,033 on the roll, which not surprisingly produced the polls’ closest result.


First-past-the-post counting applies, with press button voting machines. Candidates’ party affiliation is displayed by symbols, such as a hand for the Congress Party, and a lotus for the BJP Party.


The result was hailed as a great victory for Congress, but even a cursory look at the vote shows that Congress’s percentage of votes decreased (from 28.3 to 26.2%), while their seats increased from 114 to 145. Less than 50% the sitting Congress MPs retained their seats (49), and most of the seats now held by Congress are gains. A similar pattern is true for the defeated BJP, which had even fewer votes than Congress in this, and in the previous election.


The new Parliament contains 48 parties, most of only one or two members, and most on a regional, caste or tribal basis. The election result was much influenced by state factors and the complex interplay between different parties. Only a state-by-state, region-by-region analysis of the voting figures and comparison with seats won would establish the extent of distortion in the result.


Nevertheless this time, purely by chance, it appears that the parties will be represented in Parliament by numbers of MPs that roughly correspond to their support. It in no way justifies the single-member electorate system used, with its crude first-past-the-post counting, but the counting process was extremely efficient and fast. Within ten minutes of the opening of counting (held a week after the close of the last round of polling), the first results were coming through. A trend was clear a few minutes later, and the whole result was apparent faster than any other election I have ever followed.”



Visit to Electoral Reform Society in UK



Former National President of the PRSA, Geoffrey Goode, visited the well resourced headquarters of the Electoral Reform Society in London in April 2004. He was invited to address a gathering of ERS staff and some present and former ERS councillors. Before that he met the Chief Executive Officer of the ERS, Dr Ken Ritchie, who was to visit Wales the next day for the release of a report on the Welsh Assembly electoral system, and had earlier been in Scotland promoting STV for local government. Mr Goode described the successful operation and extension of STV (quota-preferential PR) in Australia, and the work of the PRSA.


The ERS knows STV well, so Mr Goode stressed our governments’ fondness for stage-managing our PR, constrained, at least for federal and WA polls, by the constitutional requirements there for direct election of members. He warned the ERS, whose members are not used to the ballot-paper design ploys that our governments have legislated for, that how-to-vote cards, our Group Voting Tickets, and the ordering of candidates’ names on the ballot-paper work against voters, and for parties, and that only the ACT and Tasmania have laws for proper measures in those areas. He displayed a NSW “tablecloth” 1999 Upper House ballot-paper, to general amazement.



© 2004 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Cr. NARRABUNDAH 2604

National Secretary: Dr Stephen Morey 4 Sims Street SANDRINGHAM 3191

Tel: (02) 6295 8137, (03) 9598 1122  info@prsa.org.au

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