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QUOTA    NOTES

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

QN54                                         June 1989                 www.prsa.org.au

 

 

         Hare-Clark Gives Electoral Justice in Tasmania

 

         ACT Results Finalized

 

         Party Preselection for Single Member Electorates

 

         Further Contacts with Electoral Reform Society of GB & I

 

         Back issues of Quota Notes

 

 

Hare-Clark Gives Electoral Justice in Tasmania

 

Just over 2 weeks after polling day (the A.C.T. shemozzle took 2 months to count) the final results of May's Tasmanian Assembly elections were officially declared. In 2 electorates Liberals won twice as many seats as the ALP, but in the other 3 electorates their number of seats was equal. The only other group to win seats - the Green "Independents" - won one seat in each electorate.

 

Under the Hare-Clark system there are no "safe seats", so the loss of their seats by the Education Minister, Peter Rae, and the former Opposition Leader, Neil Batt, was simply a result of voters preferring other candidates within their own party. In the general election of February 1986, Peter Rae's total of first preference votes was the highest in Bass at 1.66 quotas, and Neil Batt's reached 0.55 quotas in Denison. Mr Batt was the second to be elected of the three successful ALP candidates in Denison then.

 

Unlike the Senate's minimalist version of PR, Tasmanian voters have a large choice of candidates within each party. This is to enable voters at the general election to also decide, by the later preferences they mark on their ballot-papers, which of the candidates will fill any casual vacancies that may arise. In unfortunate and unnecessary contrast, in Australia's other parliamentary and municipal PR elections so far, electors are not consulted, in that way or in any other way, in the filling of casual vacancies. Whereas Senate teams normally have only one more candidate than the number expected to be elected, Tasmania's Assembly teams have about double the number. This wide potential choice among each party's candidates, which does not even exist as a potential under the Senate arrangements, is made realizable by "Robson Rotation" - the printing of ballot-papers in batches so that each candidate's name appears, on equal numbers of ballot-papers, at the top of each party's list and, in turn, at various other positions on the list.

 

Because the Liberals won one less than an absolute majority of Assembly seats, and the second largest party, the ALP, won five less than an absolute majority, dire forebodings are being heard in some quarters. These are not justified on present indications, as the apparently cohesive Green "Independents" seem just as capable of working constructively in an ALP-Green alliance as the various factions (parties within a party) are capable of co-operating to run outwardly single party ALP governments, or the two distinct and competing Coalition parties in NSW are capable of co-operating to run their Coalition Government. 0f course the Tasmanian Liberals have not been decimated. They have the largest Opposition possible and cannot lose numbers by capricious by-election polls. The ALP-Green alliance also has that protection against haphazard depletion.

 

Critics of PR ignore the long periods of single party government Tasmania has had since Hare-Clark began in 1907. Think of the Liberals' recent seven years, and longer earlier periods under the ALP.

 

By contrast South Australia had an independent holding the balance of power in its single member electorate Assembly before the present Bannon Government. With Australia at war in the 1940s, the balance of power in the single member electorate House of Representatives was held by two independents!

 

Nor has the single member electorate system guaranteed stability for the UK House of Commons. This was demonstrated dramatically in February 1974 when Labour, with a smaller vote than the Conservatives, won four more seats than they did, but not an absolute majority of the seats, as indicated in the graph below. Labour took office, but the ingrained habits of parties not attuned to coalition governments led to an election 8 months later. Note the system's attack on the Liberals compared with all the others! Single member electorates, not just the UK's primitive first-past-the-post aspect, are the villain here.

 

The election in October 1974 gave Labour an absolute majority of 4 seats in the 635-member House, with only 39% of the vote. Never before, in a fully-contested election, had a party with less than 40% of UK votes gained an absolute majority of seats. The 1979 election results show the onset of the first Thatcher decade - Government with a less than 44% vote. Is this stability?

 

 

U.K. HOUSE OF COMMONS

% Votes and % Seats

 

The 4 groups shown, from left to right, at each stage, are:

 

 

 

LAB.

CONS.

LIB.

OTHER

February 1974

VOTES

37.1

37.9

19.4

5.6

SEATS

47.4

46.8

2.2

3.6

October 1974

VOTES

39.3

35.9

18.3

6.5

SEATS

50.2

43.6

2.0

4.1

June 1979

VOTES

36.9

43.9

13.8

5.4

SEATS

42.2

53.4

1.7

2.7

 

 

The % vote of the party gaining government is underlined above.

 

 

A.C.T. Results Finalized

 

Exactly two months after polling day, the results of the A.C.T. Assembly election became widely known - ironically on the day of a well-attended Public Forum on what to do about the electoral system, chaired by Mr Justice Else-Mitchell. The opening address at the Forum was given by Mr Bogey Musidlak, a PRSA member living in the A.C.T. He reports below on the A.C.T. results:

 

The Australian Electoral Commission has suffered much uninformed abuse from MPs and others unwilling to contemplate the organization needed to cope with the Byzantine processes instituted under the Machiavellian d'Hondt procedure. The Commissioner, Dr Colin Hughes, was reported as having written to the Government describing the procedure as "bizarre" and "absurd". He said, "that any plausible justification there may be for it in terms of underlying principles is now invisible behind the veil of compromises and trade-offs", and, "Finally I wish to make it clear that if there is any suggestion made publicly that consolidated d'Hondt has the Commission's approval, we will be obliged to repudiate it."

 

The percentages of first preferences (and votes after the initial exclusions) are shown in the graph below. The informal vote was 5.7%. The Fair Elections Coalition fell 117 votes short of the arbitrary exclusion quota and hence failed to participate in the distribution of seats. Just over one third of all formal votes were re-examined to determine whether they could be re-allocated to a party excluded. Over 25% of those votes had to be set aside as exhausted.

 

The provisional distribution of seats was based on the highest average process, and a Senate-style scrutiny within each list to determine which of the 6 ALP, 4 Liberal, 3 RR, 3 NSG and 1 ASG candidates would be provisionally elected.

 

Then came the distribution of preferences from candidates not provisionally elected. Billed as an enhancement allowing some effective cross-party voting, this process revealed its true purpose, namely to make it virtually impossible for candidates to be elected otherwise than in the order of the party lists.

 

For some unexplained reason, if the next available preference was for the same party, the paper was transferred away from the candidate that the voter most preferred in the list. In fact that candidate would be deemed last in the order of the voter's preference if all squares in the party list were numbered, and would in any case be deemed to be preferred less than any other candidate with a numbered square. Only those papers without further available preferences would be allowed to reflect the voter's real intentions.

 

The individual tallies attributed to three candidates fell by over 2000 votes as a result of this process, which noticeably augmented the proportion of votes held to be for the candidate at the top of the party list.

 

The final percentages of votes attributed to parties (and of seats allocated under the d'Hondt highest average procedure) were as shown below. As expected, Machiavellian d'Hondt then succeeded in securing the election of individual candidates in the order of appearance of names in each list on the ballot-paper.

 

 

A.C.T. ASSEMBLY RESULT

Group Percentages at Stages of Count

 

 

 

The average number of votes per seat for the different parties varied from 6734 to 12433. So much for one vote, one value. Only quota-preferential methods, starting from the most appropriate principles for securing maximum vote effectiveness, provide results that accord with voters' expressed wishes.

 

In April, Senator Jenkins (Australian Democrat, WA) gave notice of motion:

 

"That the Senate refer the A. C. T. modified d'Hondt procedure to be examined by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters; and in the light of the procedure's unsatisfactory performance in the A.C.T. election of 4 March 1989, seek the views of' the Committee as to whether a Hare-Clark electoral procedure similar to that used for Senate elections (and recommended by the Australian Democrats and the Proportional Representation Society of Australia) would have served the A.C.T. electorate better than the d'Hondt procedure."

 

Are you surprised, gentle reader, that her motion was supported by neither Government nor Opposition?

 

 

Party Preselection for Single Member Electorates

 

Nationwide publicity has attended the efforts of the Hon. Ian McPhee, Liberal MHR for Goldstein in Victoria, to renew his preselection in the face of an ultimately successful challenge by Dr David Kemp. Mr McPhee then challenged the MHR for Deakin, Mr Ken Aldred, for preselection, but also failed there. Shortly beforehand, the Victorian Liberal MHR for Higgins lost his preselection bid too. As preselection, particularly in fairly safe seats like Higgins and Goldstein, effectively decides who the next MHR will be, the voting public is left with no more choice than to elect somebody from a different party. The U.S. system of primaries, championed recently by the former Federal Minister, Barry Cohen MHR, attempts to overcome the anti-democratic features of party preselection, but it is unwieldy and fails to reflect a variety of significant views within a party.

 

The answer is the Hare-Clark system where a panel of candidates, nearly double the number of likely winners, is offered. Not only can a real choice be made, but the major shades of opinion within the party can be represented in proportion to their support. The parties do not even have to be compelled to offer candidates of various shades of opinion, because, if they do not, they will soon realize that their share of the vote may easily go to their competitors. Votes they lose however do not necessarily have to go to their opposite number, but, because of the much wider effective choice offered, electors may well vote for the closest acceptable candidate of a similar party.

 

Mr McPhee, in his campaign for Goldstein, emphasized his support from the electors of Goldstein. Instead of simply leaving politics altogether, he could well provide at least one last service to his country by standing for Goldstein as an independent and demonstrating the strength of his following. The high vote he would surely gain could usefully show what Goldstein's electors really want. He would not threaten the Coalition's chances of government, and would help Australians understand their electoral systems better.

 

 

Further Contacts with Electoral Reform Society of GB & I

 

The National Office-Bearers in Victoria, and some Victorian members, had an evening's discussion recently with an elected member of the Council of our parent society, the Earl Kitchener of Khartoum, who was visiting Australia. He had earlier met Dr Colin Hughes, the Australian Electoral Commissioner.

 

Lord Kitchener told us he was working to encourage his Society to strive for the development and promotion of cheap, reliable software as a potent and necessary means of making the use of quota-preferential counting more convenient, rapid and widespread. Before his retirement he had worked with ICI in the field of mathematics and computing. We told him of the Victorian Government's trial of PR and computers in the 1988 Richmond Council elections.

 

Having had little observation of preferential systems being used in elections for parliament, he was enlightened by our accounts of the self-serving rules that Australian politicians have built into our electoral laws, such as the stage-managed order of candidates on all our PR ballot-papers except for the Tasmanian Assembly. He was pleased to hear how Tasmania's Robson Rotation works to pre-empt such manipulation.

 

In the context of the role of the Parliament, of which he is a member, in making provision for electoral systems in Hong Kong before it leaves UK control, we reminded him that earlier UK Parliaments had bequeathed quota-preferential systems to Eire and Malta, where they continue working splendidly. Why not HK?

 

The Secretary of our South Australian Branch, Deane Crabb, on a recent trip to Britain, visited the London office of the ERSGB & I. Although electoral reform seems stalled, the Society remains optimistic. There is healthy, published debate on PR within the Labour Party, despite opposition to PR by its Leader, Neil Kinnock. The June elections for the European Parliament again highlight how the UK's winner-take-all system unfairly distorts the otherwise accurately-based representation of the other EEC members.

 

 

1989 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

National President: Geoffrey Goode 18 Anita Street BEAUMARIS VIC 3193

National Secretary: Andrew Gunter 5 Wheatland Road MALVERN VIC 3144

Tel: (03) 9589 1802, (03) 9509 1514    info@prsa.org.au

Regd. Australia Post Publication No. NBH 4671 ISSN 0792-9699