Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia
QN2005A March 2005 www.prsa.org.au
AEC Fails in its Statutory Duty to Display Group Voting Ticket Pamphlets or Posters
Following the 2004 federal election, the Proportional Representation Society of Australia wrote to the Australian Electoral Commission and appropriate politicians pointing out widespread breaches of Section 216 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, which requires the display of posters or pamphlets detailing Senate Group Voting Tickets.
Section 216 (1) states that
If one or more group voting tickets are registered for the purposes of a Senate election, the Australian Electoral Officer must ensure that either or both of the following are prominently displayed at each polling booth:
· a poster showing the tickets
· a pamphlet showing the tickets
The PRSA presented the AEC with a number of cases of the failure of divisional officers to prominently display these posters or pamphlets in polling booths on the day of the 2004 Federal election. In Victoria, at Sandringham, a PRSA member asked to see the pamphlet, and was requested to wait for about 10 minutes while the pamphlet was found. At Hawthorn East, one of our members was asked to return to the booth later in the day, and then told that he would have to go to the Divisional Officer if he wanted to see them. At Brunswick, another of our members, after seeing that no posters were displayed, asked to see the pamphlet. The Officer-in-Charge refused to show it to him.
Obviously the requirements of Section 216 were not met at the Federal election. This section was introduced so that voters could find out where their Senate preferences would be directed if they voted above-the-line, as most now do. In the recent election, in Victoria, the election of Senator-elect Steve Fielding (Family First Party) depended on his receiving preferences that were directed to him by the ALP and Australian Democrat tickets, among others. Few voters for those parties would have been aware that their party of choice was directing preferences to Family First ahead of the Australian Greens, let alone aware of the detail of the way their preferences were directed to flow. This almost complete failure to fulfil the requirements of Section 216 meant that few voters that might have wished to understand where their preferences might go could have found out that information on election day in the manner expressly provided for in the Act. In fact many could only have found out where the preferences were directed by consulting the AEC Web site, where the pages were somewhat obscure, and presented in a way that made reading or downloading them very slow and difficult.
The PRSA received a response from Senator Hon. Eric Abetz, Special Minister of State, who admitted that “there were administrative problems in ensuring Section 216 of the Electoral Act was fully complied with on election day” and added that the AEC “apologizes for any inconvenience that this caused you and other members of the Proportional Representation Society on election day.”
As the “inconvenience” affected almost the entire community and public satisfaction with electoral arrangements, members may rest assured that the PRSA will continue to draw attention to the unsatisfactory nature of the above- and below-the-line voting system used at Senate elections.
This was among the matters raised prominently in the March submission of the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia on the conduct of the 2004 federal elections and related matters (www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/em/elect04/subs/sub100.pdf). Citing collated details in several States of the failure to have Senate Group Voting Tickets available for inspection on polling day, the Society indicated that above-the-line voting should be abolished, or otherwise perhaps a booklet setting out all ticket orders should be included in the package despatched to those on the roll just before an election.
The submission noted the large levels of vote wastage in House of Representatives elections and the disproportionate share of 58% of seats obtained nationally by the Coalition Government, which received 46.6% of first preference votes. As set out in the multi-member simulation that was attached, a fairer majority would have been obtained under proportional representation. In South Australia, 47.4% of first preferences translated into 73% of seats for the Liberal Party, instead of 55% under quota-preferential arrangements.
The Society lamented the lack of publicity surrounding the call for submissions to the Joint Committee inquiry. It took up the issue of the defective Senate transfer value definition, asking what work had been carried out, as promised, after evidence taken at the previous inquiry into the 2001 general elections. In an attachment, it gave particulars of the Western Australian legislation designed to implement the Weighted Inclusive Gregory Transfer, which considers all papers contributing to a candidate’s election for further transfer, but avoids the possibility of a transfer value ever increasing.
Having achieved radio publicity for its observation that the two seats with margins of just over 100 votes in South Australia had been determined by the draw for the donkey vote, the Society recommended that Robson Rotation apply in House of Representatives elections even if its suggestion of multi-member electorates was not taken up. It also highlighted evidence of problems with postal voting in the form of a surprisingly large number of telephone calls received in the days before and on 9th October 2004 because postal votes had not yet been delivered, and suggested that the location of polling places be stated in a mailout to voters, customized for each electorate.
Referring to legislation introduced by Greens Senator Bob Brown in December 2004, the Society pointed out that the NSW Legislative Council above-the-line approach of requiring voters to individually order parties was of no use to voters wishing to depart from the order chosen by the preselectors, or wishing to vote for an ungrouped candidate without access to a party box. Optional preferential voting without any party boxes was preferable.
The submission also drew attention to substantial disparities in federal electorate enrolments, with instance ranging from 75,368 in Moore (WA) to 100,691 in Barker (SA) among mainland States whose entitlement is recalculated strictly on a population ratio after each election. The introduction of multi-member electorates would make it easier to maintain equality and would reduce the frequency of redistributions.
The Labor Party Achieves the First Majority Government in the ACT
With its vote rising more than 5% to 46.8% of first preferences at the election on 16th October 2004, Labor gained the first-ever ACT Assembly majority for a single party. That aspect of the outcome was clear on election night, but some observers, who did not notice the great concentration of the Labor vote on the three ministerial incumbents in Molonglo, thought there was a possibility of a tenth seat.
The Australian Democrat vote fell by nearly three-quarters to just 2.3%. All AD candidates, except the sitting member, Roslyn Dundas, lost their deposits. The Liberal Party vote rose by 3% to 34.8%, mainly because of strong improvement in the southern Brindabella electorate, while support for the ACT Greens rose from 9.1% to 9.3%. Campaigning was in the shadow of the federal election held a week earlier (ACT legislation contains a provision moving the election date to early December in case the Prime Minister chooses the day normally fixed for ACT elections, the third Saturday in October). The Liberal Party sought momentum in the final week with an advertising blitz indicating that funds intended for the building of a prison would instead be spent tackling hospital waiting lists.
One long-serving member from each of the Labor and Liberal parties retired at the election, and Green Kerrie Tucker had resigned to contest the Senate election, unsuccessfully. Labor gained a seat from the Australian Democrats in Ginninderra, and in Molonglo the Liberals ousted Helen Cross, who had been elected in 2001 under their banner. As a result, five new MLAs were elected, on a par with previous experience. Six women succeeded, three Labor, two Liberal, and one Green - the only crossbencher left.
The ACT had moved to four-year terms late in 2003 after a rapid parliamentary inquiry and passage of legislation.
The possibility had been suggested by the Pettit Joint Working Party in April 1998 (QN 1998C), but a select committee of the ACT Assembly recommended by a majority in June 1999 that the term remain at three years. Labor had since changed its view.
After earlier mention when an inquiry into the future size of the Assembly was held, a short inquiry was advertised in September 2003. The Australian Democrats and Malcolm Mackerras made submissions against an extension of terms. The PRSA’s ACT Branch indicated it does not have a strong view, even though its inclination is always towards increasing rather than reducing voter involvement in determining the destiny of the ACT. Specious comparisons should not be made with jurisdictions that do not have a fixed term. Decaying governments clinging to power elsewhere through a fourth year might make voters reticent about accepting change. The growing imbalance of resources and information between the Executive and other MLAs needs to be dealt with, and stronger accountability measures introduced to assist new governments to change Budget priorities quickly rather than feeling they have to wait nearly a year through the normal budgetary cycle.
The ACT Greens said such a change should not be made before the Assembly increased in size, and that there should be approval at a referendum. After a majority recommendation in favour, the Electoral Amendment Bill 2003 (No 2) was introduced on 20th November and passed on 27th November 2003.
Electoral legislation arising mainly from the regular review of elections by the Electoral Commissioner had been introduced in May 2003, but despite several false starts over possible deals, the Electoral Amendment Bill 2003 did not come on for debate until 14th May 2004. The ACT Branch was particularly concerned about the attempt to do away with columns for non-party groupings and particularly lobbied crossbenchers on this matter, pointing out that such columns were depicted in the original official Hare-Clark material of 1991, and that no other jurisdiction has taken this step.
Somewhat by surprise, a raft of amendments to do away with ballot groups (columns made available to elected candidates without their needing to go through a charade of registering a political party) emerged on the evening before debate took place. Both the ACT Greens and the Australian Democrats supported the Government.
The 30th June 2004 became the new deadline for lodging applications for party registration rather than having action on registration processes discontinued during the election period after the Greens supported the argument of the Chief Minister that events to do with the registration of One Nation in Queensland showed the need for change.
However, all but Government MLAs voted to retain columns for non-party groups nominating more than one candidate, and this feature persisted by a 9-8 margin.
The Australian Democrat, Roslyn Dundas, was successful in moving that postal votes be returned only to the Electoral Commission rather than to parties. Independent Helen Cross failed in her attempts to have the column(s) for Independents positioned at random rather than at the right-hand end of the ballot-paper.
After early-morning debate, both the Labor and Liberal parties combined to maintain the alignment of party reporting obligations with federal legislation, and to remove inconsistencies from the reporting framework (raising the disclosure threshold from $200 to $1,500 for individual candidates and non-party groups). Kerrie Tucker argued for a $200 threshold, noting that audit activity by the ACT Electoral Commission had uncovered evidence of some donors making multiple donations of just less than the threshold applying for parties, sometimes several times on the one day. Because their total donations had exceeded the reporting threshold they were obliged to submit late returns as individuals.
The election one week after the federal poll drew just 77 candidates, 33 of them in Molonglo, 31 women and 46 men. This decline from 108 and 94 at the two previous elections brought numbers to the levels Hare-Clark supporters had anticipated during the campaigns of the early 1990s. Liberal and Labor teams were as large as the number of vacancies but, in line with an earlier trend (QN 2001D), and perhaps also owing to past loss of deposits, other groupings were of two candidates, with one ACT Greens exception.
Enrolments had risen by just 3.4% in three years. Turnout rose nearly 2% to 92.8%. With optional preferential voting applying in practice, informal voting fell by one-third to 2.7%, lowest in the central seven-member electorate, reflecting further defusing of earlier disquiet about self-government in some quarters.
The Labor Party achieved majorities in both the five-member electorates, starting with respectively 50.1% and 45.7% of first preferences in Ginninderra and Brindabella. In Molonglo, it started with 45.3%, largely concentrated on three ministers, but found the Liberal Party vote very evenly split among three candidates, two of whom had not previously stood. The fourth ALP candidate finished some 600 votes behind the third Liberal.
Seventeen candidates were excluded before the first was elected. Labor took the first three places, then the ACT Greens one, then three Liberals were elected at the very end, upon the exclusion of former basketball champion Lucille Bailie. Richard Mulcahy, with an extensive background working for Liberal politicians in Victoria and Tasmania, and more recently the tobacco and hotel industries, started with two-thirds of a quota and was the first Liberal to be elected. There were three new members, in place of two people that had retired or resigned, and Helen Cross, who had been elected as a Liberal. Ms Cross reached 35% of a quota at exclusion, and well-known winemaker Ken Helm had 25%, as an Independent.
In Brindabella, two candidates, the Liberal Leader and one Labor incumbent, were elected on first preferences. The Greens found only three-quarters of their second candidate’s votes adhering, and one-third of the lead candidate’s votes were exhausted when she was excluded with 60% of a quota. Incumbent Liberal Steve Pratt started only 140 votes ahead of his nearest internal challenger, moved 400 further ahead when surplus votes were transferred from Leader Brendan Smyth, and stretched that lead to nearly 1,000 when a final Liberal exclusion was necessary. A strong cascading vote among Labor women supporters was noticeable, re-electing Karin McDonald when Rebecca Logue was excluded. Newcomer Mick Gentleman replaced Bill Wood, who had retired.
In Ginninderra, the Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, started with nearly 22,000 of 60,000 votes (his 36.9% is the highest achieved to date by an individual), and Liberal Deputy Leader Bill Stefaniak was also elected on first preference votes. The Speaker, Wayne Berry, received one-third of Mr Stanhope’s surplus, and at the end of the scrutiny, 60% of Susan McCarthy’s votes went to Mary Porter, who was the third ALP candidate elected. Harold Hird, a former Liberal, stood as an Independent. He was excluded with 15% of a quota, and lost his deposit. Roslyn Dundas, a Democrat, was excluded with 35% of a quota, and the last Green reached 75% of a quota.
Only 35 of the 59 defeated candidates lost their deposits. None of those were ACT Greens, one each of them was endorsed by Labor and the Liberals, and five were Australian Democrats. The table below sets out key particulars of the voting and counting.
Source code for the electronic counting that occurs can be found at www.elections.act.gov.au/Elecvote.html by clicking on the specific option sought, and details of the availability for purchase of a CD-ROM of all preferences can be found at the Elections ACT Web site.
© 2005 Proportional Representation Society of Australia
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