Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia




   QN2020A     March 2020   www.prsa.org.au


Victoria's Local Government Act 2020


Debate in the Legislative Council, in the Committee stage of the 2019 Bill for the above Act, fortunately resulted in the Minister for Local Government, Hon Adem Somyurek MLC, moving certain amendments, supported by the Opposition, that produced some modification of the original Bill’s draconian provisions. The Legislative Council passed the amended Bill, which was later passed by the Legislative Assembly on 17 March 2020. It was enacted on receiving Royal assent on 24 March 2020.


The main concern the PRSA(Victoria-Tasmania) put to the Minister and all MPs about the original Bill was its Clause 13, which would have removed multi-member wards as an option for Victorian councils. Substantial arguments by most cross-bench MLCs strongly supported that concern. The Minister, as did the Opposition, made clear their preference for the original proposal but, in the Committee stage, he successfully moved an unopposed amendment (No. 10 on Page 712 of Hansard) to insert in Clause 13 a Sub-clause (4)(c), to include a uniform multi-member wards option.


The Minister also pointedly moved (Amendment No. 11 on Page 716), to insert in Clause 13 a new Sub-clause 5A to prevent multi-member wards unless they are specified by the Minister. That motion was carried 31 to 6. The six Noes were Dr Cumming, Mr Hayes, Mr Limbrick, Ms Patten, Mr Quilty and Dr Ratnam. The remaining five cross-bench MLCs voted with the ALP and Coalition members.


The Council’s Opposition Leader, Hon David Davis, moved a surprise amendment (Page 717), for 37 named municipalities - mainly rural - to continue as under the 1989 Act. The Government opposed that amendment, which was lost 17 to 20 (Page 722), but it would have succeeded if Mr Jeffrey Bourman of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, and Dr Catherine Cumming, Independent, had voted for it.


The 2020 Act will not affect the 2020 general elections, to be held for all of Victoria’s 79 municipal councils, except those recently dismissed by Acts of Parliament, for which elections will again be held, in South Gippsland Shire in 2021, and in Casey City Council and in Whittlesea City Council in 2024.

For Victoria’s 2024 general elections, it had seemed that Mr Somyurek would act to convert all existing multi-councillor wards to single-councillor wards, but his Amendment No. 10 above does not require that, and it is possible that he - or his successor as the Minister - might reconsider making such changes.


One good feature of the new 2020 Act, which the PRSAV-T submission advocated - for parity - is the new requirement that all the wards for any given council must elect the same number of councillors.


For no good reason countback, as long used in Tasmania and the ACT, has been replaced for filling causal vacancies by the inferior recount method used for Western Australia's Legislative Council.

Lower House election in Eire: 2020

At the general election for the Lower House (Dail Eireann) of the Republic of Ireland on 08 February 2020, candidates of the party that had last won government, Fine Gael, gained fewer of the 159 seats being contested than did candidates of either of the other two biggest parties, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail. Each of those three parties found that their candidates gained a total first preference vote of below 25%.








Sinn Fein




Fianna Fail




Fine Gael












Social Democrats












Independents 4 Change








The 6 other parties





* Sinn Fein might have had a higher percentage of its candidates elected if it had stood more candidates in certain districts.


Table 1: Percentages of Eire Lower House votes and seats gained by candidates of the parties shown

As can be seen from Table 1 above - which shows the candidates of the three largest parties gaining only 67.6% of the overall vote - that low vote left the nation-wide total for the remaining smaller parties and independents at a substantial 32.4%. The turnout was 62.9%, compared with 65.1% in 2017. See full details here.


Eire’s Constitution requires PR-STV in electoral districts with a minimum district magnitude of three. They presently range from three to five, so MPs are elected with at least 16.7% of the vote. The nineteen Independents elected thus obtained a very much higher percentage of the vote in their district than many MPs achieve in party list systems.


In Kerry, two Independents – brothers that had been MPs for most of the 21st Century - each won a separate 16.7% quota, leaving a candidate of each of the three main parties also each gaining such a quota.


At all the elections since the separation in 1922 from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland of what is now the Republic of Ireland, both houses of the parliament of that new nation have - in accordance with its Constitution - been counted using proportional representation with the single transferable vote (PR-STV). It is however only its lower house – like those in the UK, Canada, India, and Malaysia - that is directly elected by the people, but those others differ from it in that they still use plurality counting.

Eire uses a different ballot paper layout from any used in Australian parliamentary polls. A single column has candidates' names listed alphabetically by surnames, and against each candidate's name, his or her party and logo (if any), home address, occupation, and a photograph.


It has never used Robson Rotation, so a donkey vote effect is evident from the rather high incidence of MPs’ surnames early in the alphabet. That used to be a flaw in Tasmania’s system until it was discontinued in 1973.


The choice of candidates within each party is not as great as in Tasmania or the ACT, where each party normally stands extra candidates, as casual vacancies are normally filled by countback.


Until the 2020 election, Prime Ministers of Eire have been a member of either the Fianna Fail party or the Fine Gael party, as they have always been the two largest parties in the Lower House. At the 2020 election, the Sinn Fein party replaced Fine Gael as one of the two parties with the most MPs, the other being Fianna Fail.

Table 2 below shows that Sinn Fein might have won at least another six seats - at the expense of smaller parties and independents - if it had stood one extra candidate in each of those seats, as it gained a surplus above 0.5 quotas in each of the six districts shown, which because of that it could not translate into seats.





No. of
Sinn Fein


No. of Sinn Fein Quotas





Dublin Bay North




Dublin Central




Dublin South West













Table 2: Districts where no. of Sinn Fein quotas was above the no. of its candidates by above 0.5 quotas


Government: The Prime Minister (Taoiseach), Leo Varadkar, at the time of the election was a member of Fine Gael, and he and his Government continues, under Eire’s Constitution, to remain in that position until he vacates it, or the Lower House resolves that another named Lower House member should replace him, in which case the President (Uachtaran) is required to appoint that member as the new PM.


The Government would have changed quickly if an absolute majority of the Irish voters had given their first preference votes to candidates of one particular party, but they did not, so the status quo reasonably prevails until the Lower House decides which one of its members it will resolve to recommend be appointed as the new Prime Minister.


Because of the unprecedented outcome of the election, negotiations to determine who the Parliament might resolve to become his successor have taken longer than usual. In the meantime, Dr Varadkar remains PM, along with his continuing cabinet. It is his experienced team - which is gaining in opinion polls - that is working with the civil service to deal with the COVID-19 virus pandemic. He has re-registered as a medico to answer the call for more qualified helpers during the pandemic.


The PM has tendered his resignation to the President, but that will not be accepted until the Lower House has resolved who shall succeed him, so the President, Michael Higgins, can then accept the resignation, and promptly appoint the new PM.


The onus is on the Lower House to decide who it wants to succeed Dr Varadkar. The 32.4% of voters that supported candidates of other than the three largest parties will very properly be represented by 31.4% of the MPs when the Lower House votes to decide that.


The fairness of Eire’s representative PR-STV electoral system contrasts with the UK’s recent election, where the Conservative candidates won only 43.6% of the vote, but gained 56.2% of the seats, leaving 56.4% of the voters represented by only 43.8% of the MPs.


Dr Varadkar was Fine Gael’s first parliamentary leader to be elected by his party by a new process, which he had earlier moved to have instituted. It was the election by an electoral college of Fine Gael MPs, MEPs, senators, municipal councillors and ordinary party members.


Some parties in the UK and Australia have recently, with varying success, chosen parliamentary leaders by variants of such an electoral college. Dr Varadkar gained 2,772 ordinary party members’ votes versus 7,051 votes for his sole opponent, but those votes had a weighting of only 25%, and did not prevail over the other types of vote.


Lower House election in Israel: 2020

Unlike Eire - whose 160 MPs are directly elected in 39 multi-member electoral districts with a district magnitude from 3 to 5 using proportional representation with the single transferable vote (PR-STV) - the 120 members of the Israeli Lower House are indirectly elected using a closed list d’Hondt form Party List PR with the whole country as a single electoral district. Israel has an exclusionary threshold of 3.5%, although it was once down at 1%.

Israel's high district magnitude (120) means that each individual MP, indirectly elected, represents 0.8% of the voters, gathered nation-wide, with the vote for the party of some MPs close to that threshold of 3.5% of the national vote, even if that 3.5% is spread across the entire nation. In Eire however, each MP must gain 16.7% of the vote within one of Eire's 39 multi-member electoral districts, and is directly elected.

Both Eire and Israel have had, in 2020, elections where on single party gained an absolute majority of seats or votes, leading in each case to delays in forming a government. As
in most parliamentary republics, the outgoing Prime Minister, with his cabinet, remains in office until a replacement is appointed, so government continues.

Israel’s voters are restricted to marking a vote for a single closed party list rather than the ability Eire’s voters have to mark a first preference, and mark as many or as few later preferences that they choose, among all the individual candidates standing in their electoral district. Israel’s use of the whole nation as the only electorate makes such a power impracticable for voters, and leaves individual MPs responsible just to their party rather than to their voters.




%         VOTES







Blue and White




Joint List








United Torah Judaism








Yisrael Beiteinu








The 21 other parties





Table 3: Percentages of Israeli Lower House votes and seats gained by candidates of the parties shown


With Eire’s 39 small electoral districts, successful candidates are very likely to live in the district. They are, and need to be, much more accessible to electors than their Israeli counterparts. The preference order of Eire’s voters among the candidates is also given effect to under PR-STV rules, whereas Israel’s closed party list system of proportional representation does not give its voters any of that power.


Government: Israel’s district magnitude of 120 is one of the highest in the world. Coupled with its closed party list system, that aspect produces a very fragmented spectrum with many parties representing many small but distinctly different religious and non-religious shades of opinion. As its electoral system provides no power for voters to indicate later preferences for possible transfer if necessary, there is less incentive for parties to work together.


Those flaws in Israel’s electoral system resulted in an inconclusive election on 9 April 2019. That was followed by a snap election on 17 September 2019, which again was inconclusive in regard to the formation of a government, so a third election was held on 2 March 2020. Well after that most recent election, the President of Israel had not managed to identify an MP that he can appoint as the Prime Minister, who will not be likely to lose a vote of confidence in the Lower House, the Knesset.

The adage, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”, comes to mind. A Hare-Clark system like that of Tasmania and the ACT would be more decisive, and certainly more direct.

 Queensland intention to use some PR-STV

The Palaszczuk Labor Government had announced, well before the March 2020 general municipal elections, that it intended to replace the multiple plurality system - used to elect the councillors in those of its municipalities that are not divided into wards - with a proportional representation system using the single transferable vote (PR-STV).


However, in view of considerable strong opposition, including from the Local Government Association of Queensland, and dissent from Queensland’s Liberal-National Party, it chose to defer making the change until after those elections, so that PR-STV would not apply until the 2024 polls. If PR-STV eventuates, it will be its first use in public polls in Queensland, which is Australia’s last state to have never used it.

It is not clear yet whether its proposal would include the use of Group Voting Tickets, like those still used in municipal elections in New South Wales and the City of Melbourne. Such GVTs have fortunately been discontinued for most parliamentary houses since they first applied for Senate elections in 1983.

A German variation on the MMP system

The outcome of the election on 23 February 2020 in Germany’s State of Hamburg is in Table 4 below:


Name of party

No. of votes

% of votes

Seats won

% of seats

Social Democratic Party (SPD)





Alliance 90/The Greens (Die Grüne)





Christian Democratic Union (CDU)





The Left 

(Die Linke)





Alternative for Germany (AfD)





Free Democratic Party (FDP)






Table 4: Percentages of Hamburg Lower House votes and seats gained by candidates of the parties shown

The Free Democratic Party (FDP) won a seat despite falling below the ‘exclusionary threshold’ of 5% that applies in German elections. That was able to occur because the Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP) as applied in Hamburg operates under different rules from a German federal election.


The local constituencies (direct mandates) are not single-member districts, as in a German federal election or in elections for New Zealand’s Parliament, but are multi-member districts. The Free Democratic Party is represented in the Hamburg parliament because it won a single member in one of those multi-member districts (but none in the State lists because of failing to reach the ‘threshold’).

Wikipedia describes Hamburg’s system as follows:

“The elections were conducted under a list proportional system ... 71 seats were awarded directly in the 17 multi-mandate constituencies (of between 3-5 seats each) via open constituency lists, and the remaining 50 via at-large open state lists ... based on percentage of the overall vote with a 5% electoral threshold.

Each voter had a total of ten votes: five constituency votes for the direct candidates in the constituency, and five at-large votes for candidates on the state lists ... The five votes could be amassed all on one person, party, or list (accumulation) or could be distributed/split between different candidates, parties, or lists as desired (panachage).”


The Wikipedia site on this election has a map of the ‘results for the direct mandates’. It would appear that voters still have five constituency (direct mandate) votes even where there are only three persons to be elected. The system, although more proportional than most MMP systems, still contains the ‘party list feature’ with indirect election of those candidates.

Recent Municipal Representation Reviews

The PRSA website shows PRSAV-T’s preliminary and response submissions to the Victorian Electoral Commission for its recently ended 2019-20 reviews of electoral arrangements for Victoria’s Councils. It gives access to those submissions, and also shows a final format for the 29 Councils for which the VEC submitted a recommendation to the Minister before the process was concluded, owing to passage of the new consolidated Local Government Act 2020.


The Branch rated 7 Councils to be better constituted, 4 to be worse, and 18 unchanged. The Minister might choose other formats, possibly replacing all multi-member wards with single-councillor wards, as he said he favoured before Victoria’s new, consolidated Local Government Act 2020 was finally passed.


© 2020 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

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