Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia



     Number 61                                March 1991                    www.prsa.org.au

       SA Branch Raises PR Awareness in Referendum on the State Constitution

The recent referendum in South Australia to change the State Constitution to allow for a redistribution after every election, and with changes in the criteria (mentioned in QN 60) gave the SA Branch the chance to outline the disadvantages of single-member electorates, and hence the merits of multi-member electorates and PR.

Our SA Branch, the Electoral Reform Society of SA, was described by the media as the lone voice calling for a "NO" vote, and as such gained press, radio, and even television coverage - on the 7:30 Report.

The Australian Democrats (ignoring their fundamental principle of directly consulting their own members) joined the two main parties in supporting the "YES" case. The publicity from the SA Electoral Commission also implied a "YES" vote. Despite this, the result showed that one voter in four voted "NO".

Now that the politicians have what they wanted, there can be no more excuses. The next time there is a rotten result, they will be forced to face the real cause. Diversions about enrolment variation will NO LONGER wash when the next government is elected with minority support only. Or when there is a metropolitan distortion as bad as the one in 1985 (38% of first preferences, but only 18% of seats), which exacerbated the Liberals' difficulty of attaining government in 1989.

The report of the House of Assembly Select Committee recommended that the results of the next State election be reviewed and, if a further change is required, that consideration be given to both the top-up system and PR. The report was accepted by the State Parliament.

In debating the report in Parliament, Mr Martyn Evans, an Independent Labor MHA, said,

"I think that the case for Hare-Clark will gradually find its way into the South Australian electoral consciousness. I am sure that year by year it would bring benefits, not only to the State, but to the political parties, which would enjoy something of a renaissance of support among the public, were they seen to be more representative and were the system itself seen to be fairer. I do not think that any of us would suffer from that. In fact, I think we would all benefit from it."
In raising the issue of PR during the referendum campaign, the Branch was able to endorse the comments of many others, including political commentator, Dr Dean Jaensch, and Liberal MHA, Mr Graham Gunn, that the Tasmanian system of multi-member electorates and proportional representation was the best available.

                                D'Hondt Turbulence Continues in ACT

The residents of the Australian Capital Territory appear to have been spared the prospect of having their next election run under a crude d'Hondt scheme palpably even less fair to voters than the convoluted procedure that applied in 1989, and that is the present favourite for next time.

The Territories Minister, Mr David Simmons, had been expected to introduce legislation aimed at ensuring that a greater proportion of votes would be wasted (no transfer of votes from unsuccessful parties or independents), and thereby raising the prospect that 35-40% first preference support might translate into a handsome Legislative Assembly majority. However on 19th February he announced a delay and canvassed the possibility of power over the electoral system being transferred to the ACT Assembly after the next election.

This turn apparently followed advice that the Shadow Cabinet would give no commitment to supporting a crude d'Hondt system that would limit voters' access to preferential voting. This development, and the increased emphasis by the Liberals' ACT Division in its policy of support for Tasmania's Hare-Clark system of quota-preferential proportional representation are indeed very heartening. The PRSA is confident that ACT voters would strongly embrace Hare-Clark were they given the opportunity to cast judgement on the possibility of having much greater influence over the composition of their local legislature. Recent editorials in The Canberra Times have been emphatically in support of a Hare-Clark system. That of 7th December 1990 (see Page 4) referred to the PRSA and was mainly devoted to outlining a proposal developed by Ian Buchanan, a member of our ACT Branch, for a particular style of ballot-paper for use in the ACT situation. Despite the wording of the editorial, the Buchanan application of Hare-Clark has not been put forward by the PRSA, and is still in the form of a discussion paper produced for our ACT Branch. Under the PRSA Constitution, for a statement on electoral matters that are the subject of Commonwealth legislation to be authorized in the name of the Society, the approval of the National President, or a requisitioned referendum of all members, is required.

The editorial of 21st February 1991 was headed, ACT electoral plan stinks, and called for a referendum that would include a Hare-Clark option. It stated,

"Unmodified d'Hondt or d'Hondt in any form is unacceptable, unwanted and undesirable in practice and principle."

            Further Senators Elected by the Party Machines, Not the People

Yet another senator nominated by Party Machine, rather than being directly elected by the people, has taken his seat in the Senate to sit alongside the senators elected by the Australian people, and to exercise the same powers as those senators.

A daily press report on 11th February 1991 stated,

"Dr John Tierney, 45, a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Newcastle, was chosen by the NSW Liberal Party yesterday."

The list of such people appointed to fill Senate casual vacancies, and sitting in the present (36th) Parliament is now as follows:

J. Haines
M. Lees
A. Messner
J. Olsen
J. Stone
W. O'Chee
F. Chaney
I. Campbell
A. Gietzelt
J. Faulkner
P. Baume
J. Tierney

Quota Notes will report further such appointments of substitute senators to keep reminding readers of the undemocratic nature of Section 15 of the Commonwealth Constitution, which governs Senate casual vacancies.

Prince Charles Quoted on PR

The Prince of Wales was quoted on Page 1 of The News, of Adelaide, of 7th March on the subject of the UK's electoral system. The article stated the following:
During a private meeting with a delegation of MPs, he confided he was dissatisfied with the current first-past-the-post election system. Instead he favoured the introduction of proportional representation, a system closer to that of Australia.

The leaking of his private views, expressed to members of a Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, has caused fury in some circles. The Royal Family traditionally stays out of party politics, especially on issues subject to strong disagreement.

Proportional representation is fiercely supported by the Welsh Nationalists and the Liberal Democrats but opposed by the Tories and most senior Labour politicians.

One MP who was at the meeting but did not want to be named was furious at the unprecedented leak to the BBC. He claimed that while the Prince did refer to the issue of electoral reform it was little more than a passing comment.

It was simply a kind of throwaway remark in a very lively discussion and he was throwing ideas around. Now he is going to be hoisted for it. said the MP. It was a totally private meeting and we are now all suspected of leaking this. I can't believe anybody did this consciously...  It will mean he will never be able to meet us again. Former Tory Health Minister Sir Gerard Vaughan attacked the Prince for breaking the Royal protocol. He said he was dismayed and concerned about the comments.

Liberal Democrat Leader Paddy Ashdown commented:
"If Prince Charles does hold this view he is in the company of the majority of the British people - 70% according to the most recent opinion poll."

Lords Pass Bill to Extend PR

The British Isles' ERS Journal Representation reports under the heading The Bonham Carter Reform Bill as follows:
At present the reform of European election procedures is being discussed in Britain and Europe. In Britain, Lord Bonham Carter (Lib. Dem.) has just successfully steered a private member's bill through the House of Lords that aims to extend the use of quota-preferential PR for European elections from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom. The bill received wide cross-party backing in the Lords and almost no opposition. Particularly effective speeches in its support were made by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead (Lib. Dem.); Lords Blake and Cockfield (Cons.); and Lord Pitt of Hampstead and Baroness Ewart-Biggs (Lab.).

Lord Cockfield made the telling point that the big swing between the Conservative and Labour parties, coupled with the UK's first-past-the-post voting system, gave a majority to the Socialist Parties in the European Parliament.

Lord Underhill, speaking for the Labour party, officially reserved his party's position on the bill pending the outcome of internal party discussion. He did, however, express some personal misgivings about PR. The only outright opposition to the bill's proposals came from the Government's official spokesman, Lord Ferrers, but the arguments he used against change (most of which were irrelevant to the bill in hand) were deployed without much conviction. In spite or because of the government's opposition, the PR bill passed all its stages in the Lords and has been picked up by an all-party group of MPs in the Commons.

Would a US Senate Elected by PR Have Voted the Same Way?

The US Congress resolved to support US involvement in the war in the Persian Gulf this year. The vote in the Senate was reported to have been particularly close - 52 yeas and 48 nays. It is definitely possible that a Senate elected in a way that properly correlated the filling of seats with the votes cast at elections could have given a different result, which might have been either for or against the war. It is also possible that such a Senate could have given a less evenly-balanced result. What would have happened under PR must remain conjectural, as the primitive first-past-the-post US voting system does not even allow voters to indicate their preferences among the various candidates, let alone allow such indications to be implemented fairly. It is fully recognized that the US's adversary in the war had no democratic basis whatever for its regime, but that should not blind us to defects in the implementation of our democracy and that of our allies.

The US Senate is constitutionally established so that from each State there are two senators, whose six-year terms overlap. Each of the two is therefore elected in a different year. This arrangement prevents the use of PR. If perhaps the increasing strength of Europe and Japan, where multi-member electorates are the norm, prompted a growth in US interest in PR, a new approach might be possible.

With so many States and only two senators per State, it becomes hard to institute PR. There would be obvious resistance to either increasing the number of senators per State or grouping the States into larger electorates. It would seem therefore that PR would be more easily introduced for the House of Representatives, where it is undoubtedly much needed. That House has strikingly little turnover of its membership from election to election, regardless of considerable fluctuations in the proportion of votes for various parties.

                                Review of the Victorian Parliament

The presiding officers of the two houses of the Victorian Parliament have just tabled a document entitled Strategic Management Review of the Victorian Parliament. This is the result of what is said to be the first formal review of that parliament's operations and effectiveness since its inception, and it is believed to be the first for any Australian parliament. Our Victorian Branch has not had time to peruse the study yet, but it is sure to be interested in seeing whether it expresses any dissatisfaction with Victoria's anomalous position of being the only bicameral parliament in Australia that does not have one of its houses elected by a form of proportional representation. It is also the only mainland state that does not have protective requirements in its state constitution for a referendum to be held if certain key electoral or constitutional conditions are to be altered. Both of those deficiencies are serious obstacles to the better relations between the governing and the governed that are badly needed in Victoria.


1991 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

National President: Geoffrey Goode 18 Anita Street BEAUMARIS 3193

National Secretary: John Alexander 5 Bray Street MOSMAN 2088

Tel: (0) 9589 1802 info@prsa.org.au           ISSN 0792-9699

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