ELECTORAL REFORM SOCIETY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA

 

 

Supplement to Quota Notes No. 60, December 1990

Registered Publication No. NBH 4671

 

 

ANNUAL REPORT 1990

 

Within the past year, both the South Australian State and Federal elections have demonstrated that with single-member electorates, a political party can win government with less than 50% of the two-party preferred vote.

 

Many more people have started questioning the virtues of single-member electorates. This Society has received an increase number of enquiries from individuals and organisations about electoral reform issues, particularly about proportional representation. This has even led to an increase in both membership and attendance at the Society's meetings.

 

The Society prepared an analysis of the 1989 State elections and made a submission to the House of Assembly Select Committee on Electoral Redistribution. Several members made individual submissions along with Malcolm Mackerras and the Australian Democrats calling for proportional representation to be introduced.

 

This year is both the 60th anniversary of the Society and the 150th anniversary of the first public election in the world in which the principle of proportional representation was put into effect - to elect the Municipal Corporation of the City of Adelaide in 1840. A special meeting was held which was addressed by Bob Catley MHR; Martyn Evans MHA; and Geoffrey Goode, National President of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia. Dr Catley called for the abolition of State Upper Houses, adoption of four-year terms and revision of Federal/State/Local Government relations. Mr Evans advocated three-member electorates for the House of Assembly using the Hare-Clark method of proportional representation, the use of the Robson rotation to eliminate how-to-vote cards and filling vacancies by re-counting the votes. Mr Goode's address is attached to this report.

 

Geoffrey Goode's visit continues this Society's close liaison with the national body and some of the other State branches. As the SA Branch, we are now involved in distributing "Quota Notes", which is invaluable in keeping members informed. The national organisation has made a submission to the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters while the Queensland Branch made submissions to the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission on both State and Local Government elections.

 

An interesting development this year has been not only the request to conduct elections using proportional representation for various representative bodies but payment for services rendered. Members of the Society have obviously built-up an expertise which we need to capitalise on.

 

At the local government level, the Society made a submission to the Marion Council on the review of ward boundaries. Several more councils have changed to proportional representation.

 

In thanking members, office-bearers and supporters for their efforts over the past year, special mention must be made of Len Higgs who has been treasurer since 1940. Honorary life membership and a special presentation was made to him at the Society's 60th anniversary meeting. Such staunch service is an example to us all.

 

 

 

Deane Crabb

Secretary

11 Yapinga Street SOUTH PLYMPTON SA 5038

 

Ph: (08) 297 6441 (H) 226 0342 (W)


 

PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA

 

National 03-5891802 18 Anita Street

International 6135891802 BEAUMARIS

VICTORIA 3193

28th September 1990

 

 

ADDRESS BY NATIONAL PRESIDENT, PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA, TO THE SPECIAL MEETING OF THE ELECTORAL REFORM SOCIETY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA IN ADELAIDE TO COMMEMORATE THE ERSSA'S 60TH ANNIVERSARY AND THE 150TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FIRST PUBLIC ELECTION IN THE WORLD BY A QUOTA METHOD (TO ELECT THE ADELAIDE CITY COUNCIL)

 

The year 1840 was only 8 years after the House of Commons passed the Reform Act of 1832, which among other things abolished the rotten boroughs and the pocket boroughs that had become so notorious in 18th Century England. Witness this letter from the newly-elected MP for the Burgage Borough of Appleby to a lady friend:

 

 

PHILIP FRANCIS TO HARRIET FRACE

 

Appleby Castle

Wednesday morning, 7th July, 1802

 

My own dear Harriet,

 

The Fact is that yesterday morning, between 11 & 12, I was unanimously elected by one Elector, to represent this Ancient Borough in Parliament, and I believe I am the very first Member returned in the whole Kingdom. There was no other Candidate, no Opposition, no Poll demanded, Scrutiny or petition. So I had nothing to do but to thank the said Elector for the Unanimous Voice by which I was chosen. Then we had a great Dinner at the Castle, and a famous Ball in the evening... On Friday Morning I shall quit this Triumphant Scene with flying Colours, and a noble determination not to see it again in less than seven years.

 

 

Only 8 years after that the world's first public proportional representation election was held, and it was based on the quota principle! Where? In Adelaide, South Australia.

 

What progress has proportional representation made since then? The principle of proportional representation has undoubtedly become widely recognized as the most compelling basis for organizations and bodies politic that are motivated to establish properly representative governing bodies. The principle has been most widely recognized on the continent of Europe, beginning late last century and with converts as recent as post-Franco Spain, and this year, East Germany and Hungary. The European Parliament, growing in stature, is almost entirely elected by PR. Last year the new nation of Namibia held, under United Nations supervision, its first election - using a simple Hare quota form of proportional representation.

 

Reports that the Japanese Government is considering replacing its Lower House's Single non-transferable vote multi-member electorate system with a proportional representation system are being pursued, initially by the Proportional Representation Society of Australia, and at our suggestion, by the Electoral Reform Society of Great Britain and Ireland also.

 

Nearer home there has been a Royal Commission in New Zealand recommending a type of proportional representation electoral procedure. In Australia, Western Australia has also become the most recent state to have a House of Parliament elected by proportional representation, and the Victorian Government has tried unsuccessfully to follow suit. The Australian Capital Territory uses a form of proportional representation for its Assembly with its newly acquired self-government, but it is a particularly unsatisfactory form.

 

Party Lists: This pleasing scene is not darkened by any significant or successful move away from proportional representation. Few users of proportional representation are claiming any supposed superiority of majority-only systems, except perhaps in Israel. There the defects of having a single nation-wide electorate that leads to a quota of 1%, and using a Party List procedure, are plain. The remedy there is not single-member electorates, but the use of electorates of between 7 and 9 members, and a quota-preferential system. It is the Party List procedure, as opposed to the quota-preferential approach, that looks like posing the biggest difficulties for the proper implementation of proportional representation. We should never forget that the term proportional representation is made up of two words "proportional" and "representation". It is easy to emphasize the first word, which is clearly defined mathematically, and then risk neglecting the second word, which is not so clearly understood.

 

Representation: In the Proportional Representation Society of Australia and its various branches, which include the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia, the word "representation" refers to the voter being represented in a multi-member electorate by the candidate that is the preferred choice of representative of the individual voter. That candidate may or may not be a member of a party.

 

Those that support the approach of the Party List procedure do not treat the word "representation" as carefully. They consider it sufficient for voters to have a party to represent them, and do not consider it necessary for voters to be allowed to decide which members of that party are to be the representatives. The quota-preferential system is designed to allow voters full and flexible choice of the individuals that represent them, but the Party List procedure is not.

 

Unfortunately the Party List procedure is appealing to those in power inside Party machines because it greatly enhances their power to influence the outcome of elections. Accordingly many proportional representation approaches proposed by such sources tend to be Party List procedures rather than the greatly preferable quota-preferential systems. Thus Labour Party enthusiasts in New Zealand tend to favour the Party List approach to proportional representation. Members of the House of Assembly of both the largest parties in the Australian Capital Territory Assembly seem to favour a form of d'Hondt Party List procedure, although there is still hope that the recommendations of a Federal Parliamentary Committee for a referendum in the Australian Capital Territory between Hare-Clark and a single-member system may proceed.

 

I am aware that the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia changed its name to its present name because of its successful opposition to the Party List approach to proportional representation instituted by the Dunstan Government. It is pleasing to hear that Mr Ren de Garis, the well-known former Liberal Party Leader in the Legislative Council, is advocating proportional representation for the South Australian House of Assembly, but less pleasing to realize that it is the West German Party List procedure that he favours, rather than Hare-Clark.

 

Direct election: Fortunately in Australia, as the 1840 Adelaide election and Catherine Helen Spence's activities have shown, democracy started early. Thus major achievements, such as Tasmania's Hare-Clark system, were instituted before party machine operators became too entrenched. From Federation the Commonwealth Constitution has prescribed that senators and MHRs (Sections 7 and 24 respectively) be "directly chosen by the people". The Proportional Representation Society of Australia considers that this prohibits use of a Party List procedure. Our contention has not been put to the test, and no court has therefore had to rule on it. It is anomalous that no such protection is given to State electors*. It is noticeable that the restructuring of the Senate ballot-paper to make it work for practical purposes like a Party List procedure has avoided dismantling the previously established system of being able to indicate effective preferences for each candidate. The provisions applying to the ease of marking Senate ballot-papers discriminate grossly as between above-line and below-line voters. These provisions are of course a vital ingredient in the practical discouragement of voters attempting to vote for candidates. Still, the right does survive.

 

That right has never existed in the case of Senate casual vacancies. Such senators hold their seats without the Australian voters being consulted. By contrast Tasmania's Hare-Clark system was modified early to provide for voters' indications at general elections to be used to decide who filled Assembly casual vacancies. The suggestion to institute that came from the British Proportional Representation Society when its Secretary, John Humphries, visited Tasmania in 1917 to successfully ward off an attempt by the Labour Party to replace the Hare-Clark system with a Party List procedure.

 

Robson Rotation: We in the Proportional Representation Society of Australia know how Hare-Clark excels. Nevertheless I was very pleased when I was lucky enough to telephone Neil Robson, a Liberal Party MHA for Bass, just after he had walked out of the Assembly after successfully having his Private Member's Bill, for what is now known as "Robson rotation", passed. He was a happy man, and mentioned to me that the then ALP Premier, Doug Lowe, had given a loud "Hear!, Hear!" during his second reading speech. Tasmania's Parliamentary Labour Party was then under threat of an unprecedented move by the Party organization to issue a rigid "how-to-vote" card that would have destroyed the long-standing practice by both major parties of telling their voters to decide the order in which they voted for the Party's group of candidates in each electorate.

 

Countback: Another interesting occasion was when I was in Tasmania and heard the ABC News report the release from Risdon Gaol that morning of Dr Bob Brown of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society. The next item was a deadpan report that the Electoral Office had that afternoon completed a countback to fill the casual vacancy created by the resignation of Dr Norm Sanders MHA, and that the candidate duly declared elected as the new MHA for Denison was Dr Bob Brown. There was no public dissatisfaction. Casual vacancies had been filled that way for nearly 70 years. The Constitution and laws were observed, and Hare-Clark had a good day. Hare-Clark is still fighting, and it will continue to do so. Let us all hope that the same will apply to the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia. I wish it well for the years ahead.

 

---------------------

 

Geoffrey Goode, National President

 

 

* Western Australia alone among the States does have an entrenched requirement for direct election of all MPs.