QUOTA    NOTES

 

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

                     QN62                          June 1991                      www.prsa.org.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Appeal for Campaign Funds for ACT Advisory Poll

 

The Commonwealth Parliament has enacted the Australian Capital Territory (Electoral) Amendment Act 1991, which requires that an advisory poll of ACT electors, on the electoral system to be instituted for ACT House of Assembly elections, be conducted in conjunction with the general election for the ACT Assembly scheduled for February 1992. The Act uses the term referendum but, as the outcome will be merely advisory and not binding, that term is misleading. The term advisory poll should have been used.

The ballot-paper is historic in that it is probably the first time in the world that Robson Rotation has been used in a government poll other than an election. The Act requires that the ballot-papers are to be in two alternative formats, on with one option appearing first, and the other with the other option appearing first. So far as is practicable, ballot-papers are to be issued to voters so that no two consecutive voters at a polling booth will receive ballot-papers of the same format.

One of the two ballot-paper formats is :

 

Please put the number "1" in one of the boxes below to show which electoral system you believe should be used to elect members to the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly. Leave the other box empty.

 

 

EITHER

A proportional representation (Hare-Clark) system                        
(as outlined in the Commonwealth's Referendum Options Description Sheet)

 

OR

A single member electorates system                                                   

(as outlined in the Commonwealth's Referendum Options Description Sheet)

 

 

 

 

The Act specifies the wording of the Referendum Options Description Sheets for each option. The PR Sheet states that a casual vacancy "... will be filled by a fresh examination of the ballot-papers bearing the votes which elected him or her, to determine which of the available candidates who failed to be elected was most preferred by the voters who chose the former member."


One hopes that if the PR option succeeds the ensuing electoral legislation will interpret that expression most preferred to mean the candidate receiving an absolute majority of preferences, after any distribution of preferences that may be necessary.

The Act requires that the Options Sheets and arguments for and against the options be printed by the Electoral Commissioner and posted to each elector not later than 14 days before the polling day. The printed arguments, not exceeding 2000 words each, will be authorized, for the single member electorates option, by the Minister for Territories and, for the PR option, jointly by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, and the Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Democrats.

Such a plebiscite of the whole body politic involved, on the question of the electoral system it is to use, is unprecedented in Australia, and provides a marvellous example of democratic procedure, although it would have better if the exercise was correctly called an advisory poll, or even better still if it really was a referendum, where the fine print was tabled before the poll, and not created afterwards.

This poll will be a major event in the electoral history of Australia, and it is an extremely significant challenge to the energy and resourcefulness of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia. The result of the poll, for better or worse, will be used as a talisman of the public's feeling on the question of what is seen as the fairer and better electoral system for a long time to come.

The PRSA has therefore initiated a National Appeal for Campaign Funds for the February 1992 ACT Advisory Poll. All PRSA members and every Branch is asked to begin donating to the Appeal. Funds raised will be paid to an ACT Branch Campaign Fund, but any funds that may be surplus to the Campaign's requirements will be paid into PRSA general funds. The names of those donating at least $50 will be published in Quota Notes. Please see the Appeal coupon on Page 3.

 

 

The NSW Cliffhanger

 

Elections were held on 25th May 1991 for 99 seats in the NSW Legislative Assembly, and for 15 of the then 45 seats in the Legislative Council.

A major redistribution of the Legislative Assembly single-member electoral districts was completed just prior to the elections. This reduced the previous 109 Assembly seats to 99. With only a very small variation in the total number of eligible voters established between all districts, the stage was set for an allegedly very fair election, with one vote, one value being the declared aim.

A concurrent referendum sought voters' assent to a Bill to reduce the number of MLCs from 45 to 42 and to provide for half to face re-election at every Assembly dissolution, rather than one third as previously. The same Bill also sought to fill casual vacancies by nomination by the relevant party, rather than directly by the voters, i.e. by a re-examination of the ballot-papers for the quota of votes that elected the vacating MLC. The mandatory numbering of preferences was also to be increased from 10 to 15.

Neither on the ballot-paper, nor in the 32-page booklet distributed to households, were those latter two items mentioned, even though 400-word "YES" and "NO" cases were included. The "YES" case even stated,

"The proposed procedure to fill casual vacancies will ensure that proper democratic principles are observed."!

The Assembly elections were notable for:

  • The major electoral redistribution.
  • The very close result, which eliminated the previous 20 seat majority of the Liberal-National Coalition Government. With 49 seats, the Coalition has remained in government only with the support of an independent, who was previously a National Party member.
  • A high rate of informal voting, which was apparently compounded by a change in the law, which required a tick in the referendum question, but a number for the elections.
  • Supreme Court challenges to the result, with ultimately unsuccessful claims that changes to the law disadvantaged Labor voters.
  • The election of four independent MLAs.
  • Polarization in the seats won:
    • Sydney's Western and Southern suburbs, and the Newcastle districts virtually all went to Labor.
    • Sydney's Northern and Eastern suburbs, South Coast and inland areas virtually all went to the Coalition.

The three Electoral Districts Commissioners completed their report on the proposed redistribution on 12th April 1991 after eight months' work, including consideration of hundreds of suggestions and objections.

The Commissioners were required, as far as practicable, to ensure that no electorate varied by more than 3% above or below the average of the predicted enrolments for April 1992. That was the month the current Assembly would have expired by the effluxion of time. An overriding requirement was that no electorate would be different from the average by more than +10%.

The average enrolment was predicted to be 38,001 in 1992, and all electorates were finally established within the 3% tolerance. The Commissioners were required to give due consideration to:

a.       community of interest within the electoral district, including economic, social and regional interests;

b.      means of communication and travel within the electoral district;

c.       the physical features and area of the electoral district;

d.      mountains and other natural boundaries and

e.       the boundaries of the existing electoral districts.


The difficulty in achieving boundaries that fulfilled all of these criteria is illustrated by the report of the Commissioners regarding the Western metropolitan region. They stated,

"... the configuration adopted and the tyranny of numbers did not allow the inclusion of North Richmond in the (adjacent) district of Londonderry."


One of the Commissioners was the Surveyor-General, Mr Don Grant, who referred to his duties as Commissioner, and the various community of interest matters raised, saying,

"One of the few things not claimed as a community of interest to influence us in our configurations was the type of soil upon which people lived or walked. For over six months I have wallowed in a sea of individual perceptions of the world, or at least NSW, seen through the many lenses of members of our society. And during this I contracted a severe case of cartographic dyspepsia owing to being exposed to a range of maps some of which were most odd. I am informed that it is rarely terminal."


With varying growth rates in electorates and as the election was called 12 months earlier than necessary, the average enrolment was only 36,683. There was a variation from the mean on +3.32% in Canterbury and -6.96% in the South Coast electorates. The impossibility of achieving a very close tolerance between electorates in single-member districts is illustrated by this example, in spite of the best endeavours of the Electoral Commissioners.

Of the 3,083,590 valid votes cast in NSW for the Assembly election, only 1,671,540 first preference votes, 54.21% of the total, were for elected candidates. Of the major party first preference votes, Liberal first preferences were the most ineffective, as only 54.36% elected candidates. The National Party votes were the most effective, as shown in Table 1. It can be seen that the vote wastage for Liberal candidates exceeded that for ALP candidates by 7.64 percentage points.

 
TABLE 1:
FIRST PREFERENCE VOTES
FOR ELECTED CANDIDATES
 
 
 
ALP
IND
NAT
LIB
TOTAL
 
 
 
 
 
 
% of Total
44.67
3.08
18.00
34.75
100.00
 
 
 
 
 
 
1st Prefs. for
elected candidates
as % of 1st Prefs.
for Party
62.00
22.61
92.81
54.36
54.21
 

This is further illustrated in the analysis of first preference votes for elected candidates into percentile bands at 5% intervals shown in Table 2 below.

It can be seen that nearly three times as many ALP seats were gained with a margin of 50 to 55% compared to the Coalition. The Coalition supporters wasted votes in over twice as many seats as ALP supporters, where they gained more than 55% of first preference votes.


NATIONAL APPEAL FOR CAMPAIGN FUNDS FOR
FEBRUARY 1992 ACT ADVISORY POLL
 
The Treasurer, PRSA
3 Bohun Place
MOANA SA 5169
 
Please find enclosed my donation of $........................... for the above appeal.

 

NAME

..................................................................................................................

 

ADDRESS

.............................................................................................................

 

.......................................................................... POSTCODE ......................
 
 
 
TABLE 2: 
PROPORTION OF VOTES GAINED
IN WINNING SEATS
 
 
PARTY
PERCENTILE BANDS
TOT.
 
35
to
40
40
to
45
45
to
50
50
to
55
55
to
60
60
to
65
65
to
70
70
to
75
 
ALP
 
2
8
23
7
5
1
 
46
AD
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
OTHERS
1
1
1
1
 
 
 
 
  4
NATIONAL
1
 
1
6
6
2
 
1
17
LIBERAL
1
1
7
2
9
5
6
1
32

 

Likely results if the quota-preferential method of proportional representation had been used were determined by a simulated PR count for the Assembly, using multi-member electorates. A summary of the simulated result is shown in the graph and Table 3 below.

 
 
TABLE 3: PERCENTAGES
 
 
 
FIRST
PREF.
PR
SEATS
ACTUAL
SEATS
ALP
39
41
47
AD
5
5
0
OTHERS
12
7
4
NATIONAL
10
12
17
LIBERAL
34
35
32
  

The seats won, particularly for the major parties, would have been within the individual multi-member electorates, and closely in proportion to voter support.

This is in marked contrast to actual results in the single-member electorates, where the majority of the State is now exclusively represented, in huge chunks, by one of the major parties.

These multi-member electorates were determined by combining single-member electorates in community of interest groupings. There were eight 9-member, one 7-member and four 5-member electorates.

In six of the simulated proportional representation electorates, there was a difference of under 10% in the last quota determined, which is too close a margin to have any certainty in these results. The simulated count marginally favoured ADs and Independents.

In an actual election, it could be expected that many or all of these six seats would be gained by the major party candidates. This would particularly be the case if parties nominated a broad range of different types of candidate, and if they did not try to regiment the votes of their supporters among those candidates. As most of these close seats were gained by ADs or Independents at the expense of Coalition seats, particularly the Liberal Party's, a likely actual outcome would be that the Coalition gained government in its own right with a bare majority of one seat.

The major advantage that PR would give is to achieve representation throughout the State for supporters of all the major parties. Whilst the overall number of seats for the major parties would not have changed greatly, there would have been a significant change in the geographic distribution of elected members. In fact, up to 23 different members would have been elected, mainly within the same parties.

 

Tasmania's Ultra-low-profile Upper House Elections

 

Tasmania's Legislative Council first became the Upper House of the Parliament of Van Diemen's Land in 1855. That name was changed to Tasmania in the following year. The pace of change has not been great since then, as the Council cannot be dissolved unless it passes the necessary amendments to the Constitution Act, and its membership is not renewed by general election.

The procedure of filling, each year, on the third Saturday in May, the three longest-held seats, in single-member electorates, has succeeded in achieving little discernible mention of the event in the media outside Tasmania, despite the Upper House being the only one in Australia that can reject supply without any MLCs facing election thereby. It is unique in Australia in that even in recent years there have been a number of members returned unopposed.

Quota Notes therefore brings you the results of the Tasmanian parliamentary elections that were held on the same day as the NSW elections:

 

SEAT

MLC

ELECTED

NO.

STANDING

% OF

FIRST PREFS.

Derwent

Mr George Brookes

9

19

Meander

Mr Reg Hope

2

84

Westmoreland

Mr Charles Batt

2

77

 

 

Synod Initiates PR Bill

 

Concern has continued to be expressed by members of the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne over the Points System that is prescribed for counting votes in the elections conducted by the Synod. Examples of major faults of that system were given in Quota Notes No. 56.

As a result of that concern, the 1988 Synod established a committee to report on what should be done. Its report to the subsequent Synod, on 24th May 1991, recommended that a quota-preferential system of proportional representation should be substituted, and it included a draft Bill entitled,

"A Bill for an Act to Amend the Regulation of Elections Act 1980 and to enable the Archbishop in Council to prescribe regulations for the conduct of elections using the English General Synod Single Transferable Vote Method".

 

The committee had been chaired by the long-standing and highly respected Chairman of Committees, Mr Finlay Patrick. Although initially a defender of the existing Points System, he came, on examining the matter carefully, to the firm view that it should be replaced by PR. The motion to receive the report and to endorse the principle of PR was moved by another member of the Committee, Mr Ian Hore-Lacy, as Mr Patrick had by then retired from his position. In his speech to the Synod, he acknowledged the advice the Proportional Representation Society of Australia had given. An amendment to delete the endorsement of PR was lost on the voices. The motion as moved was carried on the voices.

On the next day it was successfully moved, despite various speakers opposing it, that leave be granted to bring in the Bill. A speaker to that motion reminded the Synod of the attempts in the 1960s by a former Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Gough, described in the book Sydney Anglicans, to have a PR system enacted by the Sydney Synod. The Sydney diocese has long been known as being overdominated in its elected bodies by a particular school of thinking. The Archbishop's efforts, which included the holding of a Special Synod to consider introducing PR, were unsuccessful.

The Bill's supporters then moved that the Bill be dealt with in Committee. The Deputy Chairman of Committees, Mr Robert Fordham, recently Deputy Premier of Victoria, said he supported the Bill with some reservations, and successfully moved an amendment, seconded by Miss Rowena Armstrong, the new Chairman of Committees, and also Victoria's Chief Parliamentary Draftsman, that the move to Committee be postponed to the October adjourned meeting of Synod. Miss Armstrong criticized the Bill's lack of transitional provisions, given the elections scheduled for the current meeting. The next speaker convincingly countered that by saying it was unlikely to receive the Archbishop's assent until the envisaged regulations had been drafted, and he asked the President, Archbishop Rayner, to confirm that it was the case that his assent was needed to enact the Bill. He replied that it was indeed the case. The amended motion was carried on the voices, in both the House of Laity and the House of Clergy. The Bill will thus be considered by the Synod in October.

At its next meeting the Archbishop in Council established an advisory sub-committee to recommend details of further drafting. The PRSA National President agreed to serve on that sub-committee.

 

 

© 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: (03) 9589 1802 (02) 99602123 info@prsa.org.au

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