QUOTA pr logo NOTES

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

   QN2019C                   September 2019           www.prsa.org.au

 

 
       

Review of Tasmania’s Local Government Act 1993

 

PRSAV-T Inc. lodged an online two-page submission to this review. It supported some proposed improvements to the Act, but only two of the four options for electing Mayors, and it opposed the other two.

 

It also supported reducing the minimum number of preferences for a ballot paper to be formal - from the number of positions to be filled, to five.

 

The Review did not propose any single-councillor wards, which have never existed in Tasmania. In 1993, wards were discontinued. All elections since then have successfully used the Hare-Clark system.


 

Should the Senate electoral system be changed to a Hare-Clark system?

 

The article below, followed by PRSA comments on it, is by Dr Adrian Beaumont, an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne's School of Mathematics and Statistics. He writes for both The Conversation and The Poll Bludger about electoral politics in Australia and internationally.

 

Tasmania’s Hare-Clark system, with Robson Rotation, is a candidate-based system for electing Tasmanian lower house MPs. Unlike Australia’s Senate, there has never been any above-the-line voting option.

 

Batches of ballot papers with different orderings of candidates within each party are printed. That removes the advantage of being the first-placed candidate on ballot papers, and makes it much harder for parties to recommend how-to-vote cards.

 

In the Senate, parties dictate the ordering of their own candidates. While the Hare-Clark system is appealing to those that dislike party orderings and think voters should choose which of their party’s candidates they prefer, there are legitimate objections to introducing Hare-Clark for the Senate.

 

One objection is that an above-the-line ticket box has been available for the Senate since 1984. Tasmania has used Hare-Clark for its lower house State elections since 1907, but other States have no equivalent system for their lower house elections.


Without voter familiarity, removing the above-the-line box would be likely to result in a high informal vote in the mainland States.

 

In Tasmania, Hare-Clark is used for lower house elections, and candidates for the lower house tend to have high profiles within that electorate. For the major parties, the lower house is the primary contest, and they would prefer not to have to devote additional resources to advertising their Senate candidates.

 

As the media focus at federal elections is on the lower house, not the Senate, most voters are likely to consider their Senate vote as an afterthought to the main contest.

 

That is not the case in Tasmania, where quadrennial general elections are held for the lower house only, with staggered annual elections being held for the upper house on a different date, and only for a minority of its seats each time.

 

Having low-profile Senate candidates could actually benefit major parties in Hare-Clark because of what analyst Kevin Bonham calls the ‘Ginninderra effect’.

 

In the Australian Capital Territory electorate of Ginninderra, at both the 2012 and 2016 ACT elections, the Greens lost a seat to Labor even though they had a higher party quota fraction than Labor.

 

The Ginninderra effect occurs because Hare-Clark is a candidate-based system. If two candidates from the same party split the vote evenly between them, they can each have a higher vote than another party’s candidate, even though that party may be closer to a quota when just party votes are considered. 

 

If Hare-Clark were introduced for the Senate, that effect would be more likely to occur, given media, party and voter focus on the lower house and not the Senate. As introducing Hare-Clark for the Senate would also very likely increase the informal vote, I do not support its introduction.

 

PRSA comments on Dr Beaumont’s article

 

Quite deliberately, as a candidate-based system - which Section 7 of the Australian Constitution also requires the Senate to be - Hare-Clark has never had any above-the-line contrivance, or the regimentation of the vote created by the stage-managed order of candidates’ names on the ballot paper, which the Senate had from 1940, well before the major change to PR-STV in 1948. 

 

There is no good reason why voters ought not regain their full voting power by the removal of those party machines’ accretions to the Senate system put there by parties, to suit them, to wean voters from using their full Section 7 power to directly choose an MP.

 

Informality rate: The first argument he makes against using Hare-Clark for the Senate is a claim that it would ‘very likely’ increase the informal vote, although he gives no estimate of the extent of that.

 

The following table shows the percentages of the informal votes in recent NSW Senate and Tasmanian Assembly polls. The closeness of those percentages does very much cast doubt on Dr Beaumont’s claim.

 

Senate election for NSW

Tasmanian House of Assembly

Year

Min. no. of boxes asked to be marked

Informal vote

(%)

Year

Min. no. of boxes asked to be marked

Informal vote

(%)

2019

  6

4.28

2018

5

4.91

  2016

  6

4.53

2014

5

4.80

2013

 1

3.32

2010

5

4.45

2010

 1

4.17

2006

5

4.44

2007

 1

2.24

2002

5

4.87

2004

 1

3.47

1998

5

3.75

 

He says, ‘one objection is that an above-the-line ticket box has been available for the Senate since 1984’, but that single box was all that voters had to mark for a formal ballot. Unfortunately, he fails to mention that marking ‘an above-the-line ticket box’ gave way in 2016 to ballot paper instructions to mark at least six such above-the-line ticket boxes in order of preference, to cast a formal ballot. Voters have promptly learnt, with AEC and parties’ help, to mark six boxes - at both the 2016 and 2019 Senate polls.

 

The law also retained – to avoid a high informal vote - a ‘savings provision’ to deem a single mark as a formal vote for that group’s candidates only.

 

Suiting parties’ preference, and media focus, should not override the much higher public value of a Hare-Clark ballot paper format empowering voters, as it is not stage-managed, nor does it take advantage of any voter’s hesitation about marking real preferences. Hare-Clark encourages such genuine marking.

 

The ‘Ginnninderra effect’: The PRSA view is that the effect Adrian describes is an admirable outcome of Hare-Clark, which has spared voters the deliberate distraction of the above two contrivances.

 

Voters have long been successfully tempted to abdicate their right to decide their direct election of senators by those contrivances.

 

It will greatly benefit democracy, as parties will focus voters’ attention more on both federal houses, rather than just the Lower House.

 

Hare-Clark for the Senate will help achieve that, just as PR-STV did when it replaced the former winner-take-all systems in force up to 1948, which had kept the Senate as a chronically unrepresentative chamber until then.

 

Death of Colin Gordon Ball, OAM

 

by Brian Austen

 

The funeral for Colin Gordon Ball, OAM, was held at St Clement's Anglican 1894 Heritage Chapel, in Kingston, Tasmania, on Friday, 30 August 2019, with family, friends, former Commonwealth and State electoral colleagues, and at least one former parliamentarian, Peter Hodgman, in attendance.

 

ball

 

Jacqueline Visager - an international exchange student from Arizona, USA - who had been hosted by Colin and his wife Helena, came all the way from Arizona to give a moving testimony, and to share memories with her ‘adopted’ Australian family.

 

I attended as a relative, with Colin’s daughter Belinda married to the son of my cousin, but mainly from my political connection with Colin through his successive roles as Divisional Returning Officer for Denison (now Clark), Australian Electoral Officer for Tasmania, and, from 1989 to 1991, Chief Electoral Officer for the State of Tasmania.

 

I was the Campaign Manager for the Australian Democrats in Tasmania over several elections, beginning with the famous by-election for the entire seven House of Assembly seats for the electorate of Denison in 1980, which included the election of the Australian Democrat, Dr Norman Sanders.

 

Colin was widely known and respected for his knowledge of the Hare-Clark electoral system, and for valuing democracy. Dr George Howatt’s classic 1979 report to Tasmania’s Parliament - successfully convincing it not to introduce ‘regimented’ ballot papers – also acknowledged Colin’s advice.

 

I remember Colin’s helpfulness and willingness to explain the more intricate workings of the counting process, even to a political novice, but he always urged proper democratic fundamentals and processes.

 

I well remember how several campaigns later when organizing scrutineering for the count in a particular Senate election, Colin would explain how and when to properly query decisions on ballot papers and even properly challenge some of those decisions.

 

It was only later that I came to realize that I was also being used to challenge and teach his counting staff on the counting and scrutineering processes, but that was typical of Colin’s nature and commitment to democratic processes.

 

Colin was an advocate for the electoral rights of the people in a democracy, and of electoral education as a means of strengthening the exercise of those rights, but if these are not continually reinforced and taught they might be lost.

 

I wonder whether there might be interest in creating a fund to further Colin’s legacy, perhaps to offer annually a monetary prize for an essay on electoral processes in parliamentary systems.


Call for Nominations for Elections of the 4 PRSA Office-bearers for 2020-21

 
The Returning Officer is Mr Geoffrey Goode of the PRSA's Victoria-Tasmania Branch. Under the PRSA Constitution, the Returning Officer rotates among the Branch Secretaries. The order, by precedent, is VIC-TAS, NSW, SA, WA, and the ACT.

 

Nominations - for President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer - need be signed by the candidate only, as consent to nomination, and must be with Mr Goode, at PO Box 7019, BEAUMARIS VIC 3193, or at nretoff@prsa.org.au by Tuesday, 15 October 2019. They will be on the Elections page.


   

© 2019 Proportional Representation Society of Australia


National President: Dr Jeremy Lawrence   npres@prsa.org.au