Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia





September 1990












EARC Congratulates Queensland Branch on its Fine Submission

The PRSA's Queensland Branch made an 80-page formal written submission to Queensland's Electoral and Administrative Review Commission (EARC) dealing with its Legislative Assembly Electoral Review.  The Queensland Branch Secretary, Mr Tom Round, and Mr Ed Haber, a Technical Adviser to the Branch, made major inputs to its preparation, and were heard for 2 hours by EARC.


The Commission's Chairman, Mr Tom Sherman, congratulated the PR Society's Queensland Branch on the quality of its submission, describing it as “thorough” and “well-researched”, and further declared that the PRSAQ was the only entity making a submission that the Commission had congratulated.


The submission contained the following summary of its recommendations:


(1) Of course, no electoral system is perfect However, we believe that the quota-preferential or single transferable vote (STV)

      system of proportional representation (PR) in multi-member electorates would be best for Queensland.


(2) In particular, we recommend that such a system should be modelled on the Hare-Clark system in Tasmania, by incorporating the

      following features:


     (a) 5, 7 or 9 MLAs per electorate;

     (b) marking of preferences to be fully optional, at each voter's discretion;

     (c) candidates' positions in each party group to be equally rotated as the ballot-papers are printed;

     (d) candidates' party labels to be shown on the ballot-paper;

     (e) casual vacancies to be filled by re-examining the votes that elected the original MLA, to determine which runner-up is next

            preferred by those voters (a poll to be held only if such re-examination fails);

     (f) no 'party-box' ticket-voting option; and

     (g) the number of voters per MLA to be equal (within a margin of plus or minus10%) in every zone and every electorate

            throughout the State;


(3) The Hare-Clark system we have recommended will:


     (a) ensure broadly proportional results, without reducing the accountability of MLAs to their electorates or encouraging growth of

            splinter parties.

     (b) allow each voter a wide choice of candidates and every constituent a wide choice of representatives; and

     (c) ensure that every electorate and every region of the State has MLAs on both the government and the opposition benches.


The Branch made a separate submission to EARC on its Local Authority Election Review.  It contained the following summary:


The present Local Authority electoral system in Queensland is demonstrably unfair and inequitable, as it is based on the use of first-past-the-post voting in single and multiple member electoral districts, or preferential voting in single member electoral districts. These voting systems lead to distorted and undemocratic results.


Proportional representation is inherently fairer and the quota-preferential system allows voters the freedom to choose between individual candidates as well as between parties or teams, while allowing coherent groups of voters the opportunity of obtaining representation on Council in accordance with their size.  This observation is confirmed by the experience of Local Government in other Australian States, namely New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania.


In particular we recommend:


     (a) The universal use of the quota-preferential method of proportional representation in the election of Councils in Queensland;

     (b) Wherever possible, and depending on the number of representatives, that Councils be elected "at large";

     (c) Where divisions are used they should have a minimum of 5 councillors wherever possible;

     (d) The number of vacancies to be filled in any ballot either at large or divisional, should be odd (5,7,9, etc);


(9) Marking of preferences to be fully optional, at each voter's discretion; and

(10) Vacancies to be filled by recounting the votes that elected the vacating Councillor.


EARC's Local Government recommendations are expected to be tabled by late September, and those on the Legislative Assembly by late October.


The above report was provided by the PRSAQ Vice-President, Alderman John Campbell, who has recently become the Leader of the Opposition in the Brisbane City Council.

The 1990 General Elections: Textbook Examples of

Very Severe Misrepresentation of the Will of the People

This was the title the PRSA gave to its written submission to the Inquiry into the operation of Commonwealth Electoral Legislation during the 1990 General Elections by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters of the Commonwealth Parliament.

The Society is grateful for the preparation of the 67-page document by the PRSA's National Research Officer, Mr Bogey Musidlak, who was recently appointed to that honorary position by the National President, for the term of his office, to conduct research on national PR matters.

An abridged summary of its contents is:

House of Representatives Issues

The 1990 general election demonstrates graphically the deficiencies of the single-member-district system.

A party with some 39.5% of first Preferences and less than half the two-party preferred vote has nearly 53% of MHRS. It won majorities of seats in WA and SA despite lacking the two-party preferred support of half the voters there.  Fewer than 49% of voters had an effective first preference.  The result makes clear how meaninglessly "one vote, one value" applies to single-member-district systems.

A quota-preferential system would much more closely match voter support and representation, and give the overwhelming majority of Australians input in the political process.  A simulated PR result is presented on the basis of the 1990 House of Representatives figures.  The Tasmanian Hare-Clark system with the Robson rotation of names in party columns prevents the major parties minimizing their possible seats for a given level of support. That system reserves maximum influence to the voters, and should be adopted for future Lower House elections.

Problems arising in the casting of Senate votes

Despite the election of an even number of senators in each State, Senate vacancies were determined much more in keeping with voters' wishes.  Still the NSW result again showed how larger parties can disadvantage themselves by seeking a concentration of support on just one candidate.  Most of the 21,749 above-the-line Grey Power or CEC voters would not have realized that the way they marked their ballot-papers could be instrumental in electing a 3rd ALP senator instead of a 3rd Coalition senator.

The current outrageous discrimination against those not following any Group Voting Ticket should cease.  As each voter has a single vote, a single first preference should be enough for a below-the-line vote to be formal.  The Australian Electoral Commission should be directed more towards making voters aware of the benefits of marking all their real preferences rather than mounting costly advertising campaigns about how to register a formal vote.

If the larger parties persist in minimizing their possible representation through the use of the party box, it should be a requirement that the nature of Group Voting Tickets is widely publicized before polling day.

There is merit in officially posting to all voters that information and a short statement by each candidate, and prohibiting distribution of "how-to-vote" materials on polling day.

The PRSA was pleased to note that some of the major points it made were also made in a submission by Arthur Burns, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University. These include calls for mandatory prior newspaper publication of Group Voting Tickets, and below-line Robson rotation.

He wrote, "in mid-campaign the kind of publicity that I recommend might have exposed the Greens as dependent allies of the ALP, shifted conservationist votes to Democrats, and induced the Democrats to persist in advocating last preferences for sitting members. WA voters might even have decided to hang the 36th Parliament. Abhor that or not, the public is entitled to know that such an election result is within voters' power. Since 1984 voting above the line, now nearly 95% in NSW, has preserved the full preference vote, unlike the Tasmanian State system, and has dramatically reduced the Senate informal vote. But four-fifths of the Senate has been made into a House of Lords. Party preselectors fixing places on voting tickets have created life peers, able since the 1977 referendum to sell off their peerages before casual retirement. Not so under Tasmanian Hare-Clark. Loyal party voters can ensure the numbers of their party team elected, and yet choose amongst the team's individual numbers, Robson rotation positively encourages choice.

... In 1982 and 1983 I first recommended the present above-line system for the Senate, against the tide of political scientists who hankered after optional preference for the Representatives, and some variation of d'Hondt for the Senate.  It may now be apparent that the entire above-line system is ultimately parasitic upon determined below-liners."

New Threats to Hare-Clark

The latest Tasmanian ALP State Conference voted to refer to a Committee, for report to the November Conference, the following proposals for House of Assembly elections:

     (a) that a Senate-style ballot-paper be used,

     (b) that there be fewer MHAs, and

     (c) that "how-to-vote" cards be allowed to be distributed outside polling booths.

The August State Council Meeting of the Liberal Party voted to refer to a Committee, for report to the next Council Meeting, a proposal that there be 10 Assembly districts each returning 3 MHAs.

Both of these moves are fairly unsubtle responses by elements in Tasmania's two largest parties (both are minority parties at present) to the reality that neither is the first preference of a majority of voters.  These elements are frustrated by the voters' reluctance to award their party a majority of MHAs, so if they can't get them by getting a majority of votes, they'd get them by hook or by crook.

The PRSA will make submissions to both of the above committees, and hopes that the good sense and fair play that has distinguished the attitudes of both major parties to Tasmania's electoral arrangements to date will continue.

One continuing development that might make Hare-Clark more secure is the progress of Mr Neil Robson's Referendums (Elector-initiated Repeals) Bill. See QN57. The Bill is supported by the Liberal Party, and has now been supported in principle in the Assembly by the Greens' Dr Bob Brown, who is negotiating details of possible changes with Mr Robson, a Liberal MHA for Bass. 

Sentiment against Hare-Clark was not a feature of a recent ABC "7:30 Report" television interview in Tasmania's Assembly chamber with the Speaker, the Hon. Michael Polley MHA, in his robes of office. Mr Polley spoke positively of the democratic virtues of having the Greens' voters represented, of their valued contribution to stimulating debate, and the incentive given to all MHAs to be involved in the House's work, since members of each grouping, depending on the issue, had occasion to be in the majority, on a particular motion or bill.

PR Society Notices

Death of Dr Kenneth Grigg



Dr Ken Grigg, a longstanding member of our Victorian Branch, and its Secretary in the early 1980s, died on 5th July 1990. He chaired the important ALP Committee that recommended substituting quota-preferential voting for the first-past-the-post voting that the ALP's Victorian Branch had used till the 1970s.  He had numerous cogent articles and letters to editors published on PR over many years.

Correction re Enid Lakeman



The prominent writer on electoral methods and member of the Electoral Reform Society of GB&I, Enid Lakeman, was erroneously referred to as "Edith Lakeman" in QN57, despite QN56 having quoted her name correctly. Readers noticed the error, and duly informed the PRSA.

Review of PR Manual

The PRSA's Proportional Representation Manual is being reviewed by a 3-member Drafting Committee appointed and chaired by the National President, with a view to publishing a revised edition, enabling us to replenish stocks, enhance the layout and incorporate certain improvements. Members' ideas are welcomed.  When the Committee has resolved upon a draft it will circulate it to all PRSA branches for comment with a view to producing a version that can be voted on by all Branch Committees. It is expected that the Victorian Branch will finance the new printing.

Moves to Escape ACT Poll Referendum

The Canberra Times editorial reproduced on Page 4 deals admirably with manoeuvres afoot by the two largest parties in the ACT Assembly (both are minority parties) to avert the referendum on the ACT electoral system recommended by a recent Federal Parliamentary Committee. See QN58.



ă 2001 Proportional Representation Society of Australia


National President: Geoffrey Goode 18 Anita Street BEAUMARIS VIC 3193

National Secretary: John Alexander 5 Bray Street MOSMAN NSW 2088

Telephone: (03) 589 1802; (02) 960 2193

Printed by PRINT MINT 45 Grenfell Street ADELAIDE SA 5000


8 - THE CANBERRA TIMES, Tuesday, August 14, 1990

The Canberra Times

D'Hondt in any form unacceptable

MODIFIED d'Hondt, demodified d'Hondt or any system that has anything to do with d'Hondt is utterly unacceptable for the ACT. The Chief Minister, Trevor Kaine, has spoken out in favour of the d'Hondt system without the modifications as a compromise. His argument is that unless there is a compromise we might be stuck with the present system or be forced to have a referendum that could cost $ 1 million. 

The present system is unacceptable on several counts. First, it took months to count last time and even with fewer candidates at the next election will still take a long time. Second, it is unfair in that it favours major parties. (Last time the "major" parties got only minor party support of 23 per cent for Labor and 14 per cent for Liberals and so did not benefit). Third, the public has no confidence in it. It is essential that voters have good grounds for believing the system is fair and efficient. Modified d'Hondt is neither of those. If the modifications were taken away, the system would be more efficient, but it would not be as fair.

Essentially, under pure d'Hondt, voters vote for a party (with no preferences). A formula is then applied to allocate seats. When applied to examples covering the usual range of voting patterns in Australia, the system usually translates the typical ALP or Liberal 35 per cent to 50 per cent vote range into 50 percent to 70 per cent of the seats. Minor parties get correspondingly cheated. A further weighting to major parties occurs because voters cannot express preferences and are therefore in danger of wasting their vote unless they opt for a major party. Also the big party machines get to determine the order of candidates on the party list, and electors get little chance to vote against awful individual candidates, as they can in all other systems in Australia.

The system best suited to the ACT would be the Hare-Clark system as practised in Tasmania. It has been tried and proved there. It has provided stable government and fairness. Tasmania has five seven-member electorates. The ACT does not need so many members. We would be better served with, for example, three five-member electorates, say Inner Canberra, Outer South and Outer North. When a third federal seat is created the electorates would follow the federal boundaries. Indeed, there is a strong argument for fewer, more highly paid representatives, perhaps fewer than 15.

The cost of a referendum is an issue, but not a very strong one. Federal Parliament could change the system without referendum, but to change it to pure d'Hondt would be a cynical exercise of big-party self-interest. If it were to change it without a referendum it should be to a system that is already working somewhere in Australia. This means single-member constituencies or the Tasmanian Hare-Clark system.  Given the homogeneity of Canberra and its consistent pattern of voting Labor, it is likely that single-member constituencies would result in Labor winning all seats or all but one or two. Such a result would be bad for public administration. Policies are often improved by vigorous examination and opposition. This would be less likely in a Labor-swamped Assembly. Labor would have far more seats than its vote warranted, and the system would thus be unfair. Besides, drawing electoral boundaries and maintaining rolls is unnecessarily costly and bound to cause dispute.

The other advantage of the Hare-Clark system is what is called the Robson amendment. Under this arrangement the political parties do not get to select the order of candidates on the ballot paper. Rather, the order varies on different ballot papers. Some have Candidate A at the top, others have Candidate B and others Candidate C. It stops donkey-voting and slavish following of the party line.

The Hare-Clark system has a lot going for it, for the voters and independents, and less going for it for big parties. Small wonder, then, that the big parties are shying away from it. Labor is perhaps scared a referendum will reject single-member constituencies. The Liberals are scared it will accept them. So rather than risk a referendum at all, there is a danger both parties will compromise on pure d'Hondt - a system that suits the big parties and nobody else.

Electoral and political commentators have adequately proved that on any likely voting outcome, the pure d'Hondt system is rigged in favour of the major parties. It was a system devised in continental Europe for the continental European political environment. That environment is one of many parties, none having a majority support It was designed to break the impasse that resulted when four or five parties of roughly equal weighting contest an election. It was never intended for a two-party system and should not be applied in a country which is, and likely to remain, a two-major-party polity.

Any attempt by the major parties to suggest that a referendum would be spoiled by a destabilising anti-self-government write-in campaign would be nonsense. A rotten electoral system has undermined confidence in self-government, its continuance in any form would further undermine it. A referendum would be decisive, however close, and the people would accept the people's judgment Failing that, the Federal Parliament should introduce a Hare-Clark system like Tasmania's. In any event it should pass power over the electoral law to the ACT Assembly subject to ratification of any changes by referendum. For the ACT Labor or Liberal Party to acquiesce in any form of d'Hondt would invite the electorate's rage.



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