QUOTA  NOTES

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

             QN2005D              December 2005    www.prsa.org.au

 

 

·         Restoration of direct democracy vital

 

·         National Office-bearers for 2006-07

 

·         Extending voter influence not a feature of federal electoral legislation

 

·         First Woman Chancellor Heads Second German Grand Coalition

 

·         Vale Rod Donald, NZ Electoral Reformer

 

·         Victoria’s Municipal Election Configurations

 

 

Restoration of direct democracy vital

 

In Tenterfield on 22 October Senator John Faulkner, former Labor Minister and Senate Leader, delivered the Henry Parkes Oration 2005 commemorating again the 1889 call for a Constitutional Convention that was a catalyst for nationhood (www.parkesfoundation.org.au/Projects_oration2005.htm).

 

Following former Labor leader Mark Latham’s diarised disowning of involvement in organised politics a month earlier, Senator Faulkner began:

 

“In Australia today there is a dangerous indifference to politics accompanied by a simmering resentment of politicians. Citizens who haven't enough interest in the democratic process to stay even vaguely informed of the issues of the day have only one profound political conviction: that politicians can't be trusted. Politicians show reciprocal cynicism in an electoral climate where a lie about mortgage rates has more impact than the truth about lies. Our democracy is drowning in distrust.”

 

The media publicity obtained by the speech was largely confined to parts of a forthright statement of the corrosive effects of factionalism based on spoils rather than ideas:

 

“Undemocratic practices are often blamed on factions and factionalism. There is nothing inherently wrong or undemocratic about like-minded people voting together to maximise their chances of success. It is, after all, the principle of Party politics. When such groupings are based not on shared beliefs but on shared venality, factionalism goes bad. When factional interests are put ahead of the Party's interests, the Party rots.

 

As Party membership declines, the influence of factional warriors increases. They maximise their influence by excluding those who disagree, not through leadership and persuasion. Those who defer to the powerbrokers are rewarded with positions in the Party and with employment. This is not factionalism. It is feudalism, and it is killing the ALP.”

 

Senator Faulkner indicated that public funding, originally seen as levelling the election playing field, had merely made campaigns much more expensive. This placed a premium on the big corporate dollar and resulted in a downplaying of the usefulness of individuals’ commitment and contributions.

 

Grass-roots members were now “an afterthought and for many in the machine, an inconvenience.”

 

The Senator said that a restoration of direct democracy was a vital aspect of three major desirable changes.

 

First, there needed to be openness and transparency within political parties – “no code-words, no cabals, no secret handshakes” and “as many as possible Party officials, executives, committees and for that matter Senators, ought to be directly elected or preselected by the Party membership.”

 

Secondly, a level of responsibility in the media was essential, with meaningful corrections receiving the same coverage and emphasis as any original error:

 

“Today, as trash tabloids and opinion-for-hire commentators destroy any semblance of a debate of ideas, the principle of informed decision-making at the heart of the ideal of democracy drowns beneath racy headlines and print-now, retract-later coverage. Radio shock-jocks and shallow television infotainment do the same.”

 

Thirdly, although it was understandable that “the main preoccupation for our pioneer national democrats was to preserve the rights of the residents of the colonies while creating a new democratic institution”, it was time now to consider ways of maximising “democratic participation in the constitutional reform process” through a commission into constitutional reform as a starting point.

 

“Without both an understanding of the practicalities of political change, and the confidence that the citizen can shape the state, Australians will drift further and further into disengagement and resentment. It is a dangerous moment for our democracy. I hope it will be the impetus for renewal,” concluded Senator Faulkner.

 

Many supporters of proportional representation are motivated by the fairness of balanced outcomes everywhere accurately reflecting voters’ views. Most Hare-Clark advocates especially value the importance of voter influence on election day. Because there are no safe seats to be allocated through backroom deals, and hence no guaranteed short-cuts into Parliament under Hare-Clark, there are no incentives for branch stacking and other unsavoury practices that regularly go hand-in-hand with single-member electorates.

 

 

National Office-bearers for 2006-07

 

The Returning Officer for the recent elections of PRSA National Office-bearers, Mr Jim Randall, has declared the candidates below elected for the term 1 January 2006 to 31 December 2007, as follows:

 

National President:                 Mr Bogey Musidlak

National Vice-President:        Mr Deane Crabb

National Secretary:                 Dr Stephen Morey

National Treasurer:                 Mr Robert Forster

 

The four positions were all filled unopposed.

 

 

Extending voter influence not a feature of federal electoral legislation

 

Despite the submission of the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia demonstrating the problems of single-member electorates and calling for an end to Senate ticket voting and its replacement with optional preferential voting to place electors at the heart of the political system (see QN 2005A), the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the conduct of the 2004 federal elections that was released in October 2005 (www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/em/elect04/report.htm) did little to advance effective voting.

 

While the report contained a discussion of the pros and cons of optional preferential voting (its application in the ACT was not correctly summarised), it was not centred on the role of voters in a democracy, but dealt more with the difficulty of achieving national uniformity given the entrenchment of optional preferential voting for the Legislative Assembly in New South Wales and the absence of consensus. Of the ERSSA proposal, it was simply claimed that it "does not appear to have widespread support".

 

Unanticipated orders of exclusion that saw preferences from defeated Australian Democrat and Labor candidates contribute decisively to the election of Family First’s Senator Fielding in Victoria and only strong below-the-line voting in Tasmania thwart a similar outcome from preference deals set out on registered tickets gave rise to extensive public disquiet (see QN2004D). Coalition members and Australian Democrat Senator Andrew Murray called for an end to the current arrangements, and their replacement by compulsory marking of individual preferences among all party boxes or the onerous current alternative of marking nearly all squares below the line.

 

Votes marked in party boxes would remain with candidates in a party column until all had been elected or excluded before moving to the highest-listed continuing candidate in the next available column. This change, based on altered New South Wales Legislative Council arrangements but without voters free to choose how many boxes to number, had been set out in the Senate Voters’ Choice (Preference Allocation) Bill 2004 by Greens Senator Bob Brown.

 

The Committee unanimously supported a continuation of compulsory marking of preferences for the House of Representatives.

 

In other areas, pointing to instances of false enrolments and claiming various Commonwealth and State precedents, Coalition members stated that the integrity of elections would be improved by closing the roll to newcomers (other than new citizens or those about to turn 18) on the day an election was announced, and allowing those already on it three days to report a new address. Others claimed that this suggestion and a tightening in relation to identity requirements at the time of enrolment constituted an attempt to tilt the single-member playing field in favour of the Coalition, as did a rise (the first since 1992) from $1,500 to $10,000 in disclosure thresholds for individual political donations and broader scope for tax deductibility, and moves to disfranchise all full-time prisoners (but allowing them to remain enrolled).

 

Four year terms for the House of Representatives were also put forward during the Committee’s deliberations and immediately scotched by the Prime Minister, while Finance Minister Senator Minchin’s publicly-expressed hope that a mandate for voluntary voting would be sought at the next election also brought a swift statement that there would be no change in Government policy. The Committee recommended four-year terms, encouraging more debate on consequences for the Senate, and a specific enquiry into voluntary voting.

 

Special Minister of State Senator Eric Abetz enthusiastically supported many of the changes the Committee proposed (www.smos.gov.au/speeches/2005/sp_20051004_electoral.html). However, House of Representatives terms, voluntary voting and Senate voting matters were not taken up in the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005 introduced at the end of the year’s sittings. There were amendments relating to enrolment procedures, reporting thresholds for campaign donations and their greater tax deductibility, voting by prisoners, and ensuring registration requirements tightened in 2004 applied to all parties without parliamentary representation.

 

Under winner-take-all electoral systems, any advantage gained from eligibility arrangements for voting can be crucial in marginal electorates. Where systems of quota-preferential proportional representation are in use, because the effects from inclusion or exclusion of relatively small numbers of voters are limited, parties are more likely to put effort into maintaining or improving their local standing than trying to tilt particular electoral arrangements to their advantage.

 

 

First Woman Chancellor Heads Second German Grand Coalition

 

A period of declining political fortune for the Social Democrats (SPD) (in the wake of continued high unemployment and social welfare cuts) culminated in the last state-level red-green coalition being turfed from office in North Rhine-Westphalia in May 2005. Languishing in the polls by up to 20% behind an expected Christian Democrat and Free Democrat alliance, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder wanted to take the initiative by seeking voter approval for his Agenda 2010 platform a year earlier than necessary.

 

On 1 July, following a precedent set early in the first term of Helmut Kohl, 148 of his supporters abstained on a confidence motion that was in consequence lost. The President set elections for 18 September after the Constitutional Court refused to intervene in the way the Government had come to an end. East-German-born Angela Merkel with a doctorate in physics became the Christian Democrat candidate for Chancellor.

 

Under Germany’s mixed member proportional system, electors have two votes, the first in constituencies decided on a first-past-the-post basis, and the second which determines national and then state representation in proportion to the number of those votes won by parties meeting either of two eligibility criteria: achievement of 5% of the second vote nationally, or success in three constituencies (both waived for parties representing recognised regional ethnic minorities).

 

There are 299 constituencies that are periodically reviewed, together with notionally a further 299 party-list places in the Bundestag: independents may stand only in constituencies. Under the Hare-Niemeyer system, total national second votes for each qualifying party are multiplied by 598 and divided by the sum of second votes for all such parties: there is an entitlement to a seat for each full quota of votes achieved, with the rest allocated by rounding up as many of the highest fractional remainders as is necessary.

 

National entitlements for each party are then distributed among the states in proportion to votes it received there, with again as many of the highest fractional remainders rounded up as is necessary to exactly complete the allocation. Total seats in a state are therefore not always double the number of constituencies and only become known after an election.

 

Normally the number of list seats in a state for a successful party is the difference between its entitlement on the basis of second votes and the number of constituencies won through first votes. Where a party has won more constituencies than its state entitlement, additional “excessive mandates” (überhangmandate) are created in the next parliament.

 

There are no by-elections. Replacements come from a party’s next available candidate on the state list. However, a constituency vacancy is only filled if the party concerned has no remaining excessive mandates in that state.

 

Order of parties on both parts of the ballot-paper is determined in each state by the relative magnitudes of second votes at the previous election for the Bundestag, the rest following alphabetically. A total of 3,648 candidates came forward in 2005, 742 just in a constituency and 1,586 only on a state list, and 1,320 in both capacities.

 

The Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and Free Democrats had candidates in each constituency, the Greens in 297 of them and the Left Party (combining the successor of the Socialist Unity Party in the East with the Labour and Social Justice Party in the West that included several SPD dissidents) in 290. In the constituencies, 21% of candidates were female, compared with 32% of those in the state lists (www.bundeswahlleiter.de/bundestagswahl2005/presse_en/index.html).

 

During the campaign, once the putative Christian Democrat Finance Minister proposed a flat tax and Dr Merkel indicated that value added tax would have to rise, Chancellor Schröder went on the offensive energetically, asking Germans not to accept such a radically different way of life that favoured the rich. The gap between the largest parties continued to shrink rapidly in polls, but observers were still surprised at how close the final vote was.

 

Turnout was a lowest-ever 77.7%, a 1.4% decline from the previous election, and 4.5% lower than in 1998. Spoilt or otherwise invalid papers amounted to 1.8% of the constituency vote and 1.6% of the party-list vote, compared with respectively 1.5% and 1.2% in 2002.

 

The Christian Democrats (43.6%) achieved nearly a 4% margin over the Social Democrats in West Germany but in the East (28.8%) were 3% behind (the Left Party achieved 25.4% there). The official Representative Electoral Statistics analysis showed support for the two largest parties was on a par among women (35.5%), while men slightly favoured the Christian Democrats (34.8% compared with 32.8%).

 

The Social Democrat vote nationally fell from 38.5% to 34.2% and that for the Christian Democrat coalition from 38.5% to 35.2% (most noticeably in Bavaria, home of the previous candidate for Chancellor). The Greens, formerly in the governing coalition, dropped 0.5% to 8.1% while the Free Democrats rose from 7.4% to 9.8% and the Left Party (Die Linke) from 4.0% (they did not participate in list seats in 2002 as they won just two constituencies) to 8.7%. Despite some media alarm early in the campaign, a coalition on the far right fell well short of the 5% threshold.

 

Elections in one Dresden constituency were postponed for a fortnight after one candidate died. Enough Christian Democrat supporters there voted strategically to enable the party to take the constituency as an excessive mandate while at the same time bolstering the Free Democrats’ second vote.

 

Of the constituencies, 145 (48.5%) were won by the Social Democrats with 38.4% of first votes, and 150 (50.2%) by the Christian Democrat coalition on 40.8%. Sixteen excessive mandates were created (there were just five in 2002), nine for the Social Democrats (who won all constituencies in Hamburg, Brandenburg, Saarland and Saxony Anhalt) and the rest for the Christian Democrat coalition (who took all but one constituency in Bavaria and all but three in Saxony).

 

The table below shows national support and seats for parties that obtained representation in the Bundestag, with figures in brackets indicating the relevant proportion of seats. As just 3.9% of second votes were wasted this time, despite the significant distortion in relation to the constituencies, total seats closely reflected overall voter support levels.

 

Summary of national outcomes for successful parties

 

 

first votes %

direct mandates

(%)

list seats

(%)

total

seats

(%)

second votes %

CDU/CSU

40.8

150 (50.2)

76 (24.1)

226 (36.8)

35.2

SPD

38.4

145 (48.5)

77 (24.4)

222 (36.2)

34.2

FDP

4.7

-

61 (19.4)

61

(  9.9)

9.8

Left Party

8.0

3

(  1.0)

51 (16.2)

54

(  8.8)

8.7

Green

5.4

1

(  0.3)

50 (15.9)

51

(  8.3)

8.1

 

Source: Federal Statistical Office Germany

 

A tug-of-war immediately began over who should lead a grand coalition of the Social and Christian Democrats (the Left Party had been universally ruled out as a coalition partner in government before the election). After three weeks, Angela Merkel prevailed on the basis of greater national voter support, and was ratified as Chancellor when the Bundestag first met on 22 November, a week after the detailed coalition agreement was settled. Gerhard Schröder retired from public life and, following an adverse internal vote, Social Democrat chairman Franz Müntefering stood aside from that leadership position after the composition of the Cabinet with 8 SPD and 6 CDU/CSU Ministries (plus the Chancellor and a support Minister) was negotiated with him as Labour Minister and Vice-Chancellor.

 

 

Vale Rod Donald, NZ Electoral Reformer

 

On 6 November, the day before the swearing-in of the forty-eighth New Zealand Parliament, Greens co-leader Rod Donald died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 48, before he could take responsibility for a “Buy Kiwi” initiative in the term of the new Labour-led government (see QN 2005C).

 

Political leaders and the media paid tribute to his personal integrity, the consistency between his beliefs and lifestyle, and the genuineness of his forceful advocacy.

 

Mr Donald had been a major national proponent of the mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, particularly in the period between the 1986 release of the report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System and subsequent referendums in 1992 and 1993 that saw the previous first-past-the-post system ditched. He remained an articulate promoter of the new system and, after being elected to Parliament in 1996, originally as a Green Party member of the Alliance (see QN 2002D), was eventually influential in having quota-preferential proportional representation introduced for local government and district hospital board elections.

 

While the PRSA has no enthusiasm for MMP arrangements because the Hare-Clark system used in Tasmania and the ACT gives voters much more influential local say, it acknowledges the energy of Mr Donald in helping to dismantle the previous grossly unfair NZ system and introduce effective voting in other circumstances, and expresses condolences to his family and friends.

 

 

Victoria’s Municipal Election Configurations

 

The November 2005 round of Victorian municipal elections was the last before 2008, when all councils in the State will again hold elections on the same day, for the first time since the Kennett Government’s changes in 1993 (see QN2004B). From then onwards, elections will be held for all municipal councils every four years on the last Saturday in November.

 

The 2005 polls were the first time in Victoria where quota-preferential proportional representation was the only electoral system that was used in any multi-member municipal electoral district (ward or undivided municipality as the case may be).

 

Of the 79 municipalities in existence, 14 are undivided, 11 all have three-member wards, 12 have multi-member wards of which at least one returns an even number of councillors, and 13 have at least one multi-member ward along with one or more single-member wards.

 

The remaining 29 municipalities have between 5 and 12 single-member wards and therefore have not yet experienced any of the benefits of quota-preferential proportional representation.

 

The PRSAV-T hopes that forthcoming statutory representation reviews beginning at the start of 2007 and continuing until mid-2008 result in further improved electoral arrangements. The Branch has conveyed to the Government the desirability of having a consistent straightforward system under which all councils are either undivided or have all wards returning the same odd number of councillors, at least three.

 

 

© 2005 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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