QUOTA    NOTES

 

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

QN64                                                                      December 1991


      
www.prsa.org.au

 

 

         The ACT Branch's Campaign for the Advisory Poll - How Is It Going?

         Neil Robson on ACT Radio

         Last National ACT Appeal Call before Advisory Poll

         Greiner Government Threat to PR in NSW Local Government

         National Office-bearers for 1992-93

         Melbourne Synod Adopts a PR Electoral System

         SA Boundaries Commission Report

         Asian Interest in PR Grows

         Back issues of Quota Notes

 

The ACT Branch's Campaign for the Advisory Poll - How Is It Going?

 

As the last two issues of Quota Notes have reported, the Commonwealth Government is to conduct, in February 1992, concurrently with the scheduled ACT Assembly election, an Advisory Poll of all electors in the Australian Capital Territory to determine whether a majority prefers a single-member electorate system or a Hare-Clark PR system as the electoral system for future elections of the Assembly. It is intended that the Assembly will have the power to enact its own electoral laws, but the Federal Minister expects it to implement the system chosen by ACT electors at the Poll.

The ACT Branch of the PRSA has been magnificently active, and has greatly appreciated the funds it has received to date from our National Appeal.

A key part of the Branch's campaign is its involvement in the ACT's Hare-Clark Campaign Committee, which includes the local Liberal Party, Australian Democrats, several parties in the ACT Assembly, and the PRSA's ACT Branch. The ACT-based psephologist, Malcolm Mackerras, is also advocating the Hare-Clark option.

The H-CCC has produced and distributed large numbers of three excellent leaflets:

a.   Hare-Clark The Fair Voting System for the ACT, which asks, What are the differences? It answers:         Hare-Clark

o        Fair outcomes in line with voters' wishes

o        All significant groups in the Assembly

o        A full choice of candidates to vote for

o        Control by voters, not party machines

o        Choice of at least 5 local members to consult

o        No by-elections

o        Stable boundaries

o        No safe seats
 

Single-Member Electorates

o        Distorted outcomes favouring the largest party

o        A probable one-party Assembly elected

o        "Choice" of only 1 candidate per party (most with no chance!)

o        Party-machine domination of the system

o        Only one representative to consult

o        Costly, destabilizing by-elections

o        Frequent boundary changes

o        Safe seats for party hacks

     

b.  Robson Rotation puts you in charge, which explains that system, mainly by a question and answer approach.

c.  ALP VOTERS Why You Should Support Hare-Clark, which seeks support from those that intend to vote for ALP candidates, but may prefer Hare-Clark. It quotes Mr Ken Fry, ALP MHR for Fraser (ACT) 1974-84, from a debate where he said,

"When I was active in the ALP in the ACT Branch ... nearly all of my colleagues strongly supported proportional representation. There was no question about it ...

Under Hare-Clark with the Robson Rotation, they would not be there for life. They would have to perform or they would be rejected, whereas under the other system we all know once you're elected and the party continues to support you, you've nearly got to commit murder or something before you would be rejected. It really is a job for life...

I think the Follett government here is performing very well. I think they would win under Hare-Clark. They don't have to get the power-hungry single-member electorates to secure government."

The  H-CCC and the PRSA's ACT Branch organized a very successful and well-timed visit to Canberra by Mr Neil Robson, one of the seven MHAs for Bass, who was a former Tasmanian Electoral Minister, and who introduced the Robson Rotation legislation, which is an important ingredient in the fair operation of the modern Hare-Clark system. On Wednesday 6th November Mr Robson launched the Robson Rotation leaflet above, at a press conference, and received good television, radio and newspaper coverage.

At a second press conference the next day that again was well reported on the electronic media, Mr Robson authoritatively demolished the claims of a leaflet, The Case for Local Members, that was issued by the Australian Labor Party, and that tried to give the impression that only single-member electorates could produce so-called local members. On that evening he was the very informative guest of honour at a dinner attended by over 50 people, which raised enough to pay the costs of his travel from Tasmania.

On Friday he was interviewed on ABC radio at the peak audience time of 8:30 to 8:40 a.m. An abridged transcript of that interview is given below. Later Mr Robson joined the PR side in a debate on the ACT Poll choices held at the Australian National University. Other speakers supporting PR were Mr Ken Fry, ALP MHR for Fraser (ACT) 1974-84, and Mr Bogey Musidlak, Convenor of the PRSA's ACT Branch.

Efforts are being made to amend the Commonwealth legislation that governs the February 1992 elections for the ACT Assembly so that the discredited Consolidated d'Hondt would be replaced, for that last election directly under Commonwealth law, by a Senate-style system, as has been recommended by the Australian Electoral Commission. The PRSA's ACT Branch has also lodged formal objections with the Commission to MHA Craig Duby's registration of the Hare-Clark Independence Party, pointing to that Party apparently lacking any members other than himself, and to his recent testimony to a parliamentary committee in which he strongly supported Consolidated d'Hondt.

 

 

Neil Robson on ACT Radio

 

ABC Morning Show reporter Matthew Abraham's interview with the Tasmanian MHA, Mr Neil Robson, greatly helped in putting the PR case before ACT voters:

 

ABRAHAM:

Why would you think that Canberra would be better served under Hare-Clark than Hobart or Tasmania is?

ROBSON:

Well, I must say, what is the purpose of an election? It is to put someone there to represent you, and you are there to represent the people. And so if you're put there with a highly accurate system that is so fair that everybody in the world admits its fairness, and it's so easy to run in the actual electorate process, then everybody knows that their vote will count. In the single-member electorates, when you get to the polling booth your vote's most probably going to be wasted - whereas, in the Hare-Clark system, everybody's vote counts. And the next thing is that under Hare-Clark you're given a choice of candidates. And the party itself puts up a choice, particularly to amass a bigger vote.

ABRAHAM:

But you also reduce representation, direct representation because you don't know who your local member is.

ROBSON:

Oh, get out.

ABRAHAM:

... the local members - if there's five, or as we have here, 17 - can really dodge accountability because they could say: well, you know, it's not me; it's the other four, or the other 16.

ROBSON:

You come to Launceston and walk down the streets, and you ask the people there who their local member is - just who their local member is.

ABRAHAM:

Well, they'll say: there's one of five of them - there's Neil Robson. There's one of five.

ROBSON:

No, but they'd pick one out. They know who their member is.

ABRAHAM:

So they adopt one?

ROBSON:

Yes, they adopt one. And you watch them go into the polling booths - little old ladies and little old gentlemen - they pick up the thing; they put on their glasses, and you'll see them hunt up and down the column to find their favourite, then they look for their second favourite, then they go to their third. And then, since the electorate officer tells them to vote for 7, or the party tells them to vote for 7 for their valid vote, they fill out the lot. An anyway, many of them go to 16 and 17 to make their vote really count.

ABRAHAM:

You say that the primary purpose of elections is for people to get the government they want.

ROBSON:

I didn't say that. I said to get a representative.

ABRAHAM:

... a primary purpose of having an election system is to get stable government, surely.

ROBSON:

... is to get a government and to be representative of the people. ... it's the people's election, not the government's election, not the party's election. The election is for the people, and it's for them to choose who their representative is.

ABRAHAM:

But you can do that with single-member electorates. You get the choice of however many candidates there are in your electorate, in your single electorate.

ROBSON:

You don't get to choose, in a single-member electorate, who your candidate's going to be to fight the next election, you only get one stuck up in front of you. And with this stupid Senate system and other systems around, you could have a labrador dog in the box, and the parties dominate too much, too much.

ABRAHAM:

The argument by the pro-Hare-Clark forces in Canberra is that Labor will get all 17 seats if it's single-member electorates. In Tasmania, you have Hare-Clark operating, and Labor runs a minority government in the Lower House. In the Upper House you have single-member electorates, and how many Labor Members are there - one?

ROBSON:

One.

 

 

Last National ACT Appeal Call before Advisory Poll

 

This is the last opportunity for Quota Notes to call for donations to the PRSA's National Appeal for Campaign Funds for the February 1992 ACT Advisory Poll (letting all ACT voters choose between Hare-Clark and single-member electorates for the ACT) before that poll is held.

 

The PRSA Treasurer, Mr Len Higgs, 3 Bohun Place MOANA SA 5169, has since last Quota Notes gratefully received donations of at least $50 from each of Lyle Allen, Ed Haber and John Webber.

 

 

Greiner Government Threat to PR in NSW Local Government

 

Incomprehensibly, for a Government that owes its very existence to the NSW electoral authorities' proper insistence on strict marking of preferences at the last elections, rather than allowing ticks and crosses to be accepted as indications of first preference votes, and the successful defence of that position in the Supreme Court of NSW, the Greiner Liberal Government has a local government Legislative Review Unit producing a Discussion Paper on the Reform of Local Government in NSW that actually proposes replacing the existing quota-preferential PR electoral system with the archaic first-past-the-post block vote (multiple X voting) procedure!

The Discussion Paper has clothed the wolf of multiple X voting in the sheep's clothing of the euphemism equal value voting. The PRSA's NSW Branch, in a forceful submission in response to the Review Unit's invitation for public comment, wrote,

"While the term equal-value voting might imply a new system, the proposal amounts to a reversion to nineteenth and early twentieth century electoral practices. The block vote form of first-past-the-post voting was comprehensively abandoned for all Senate elections in 1918, and for all NSW local government elections in 1953. There were numerous inconsistencies in its operation at both levels which, together with what became an intense clamour from the public and politicians, ultimately saw both the Senate and NSW local government change to quota-preferential PR."

 

The Branch went beyond merely defending PR, and suggested some improvements to existing arrangements.

In ironic contrast, the PRSA's NSW Branch has also been asking a different Review Committee, chaired by Sir Laurence Street and mentioned in September's Quota Notes, to recommend the replacement, by PR, of the multiple X voting procedure used to elect, by postal ballot of its many members, the Council of the National Roads and Motorists' Association.

 

National Office-bearers for 1992-93

 

The Returning Officer for the recent elections of PRSA National Office-bearers, Mr Norman Cox, has declared the candidates below elected unopposed to the following positions within the Society from 1st January 1992 to 31st December 1993:

 
National President: Mr Geoffrey Goode
National Vice-President: Mr David Higbed
National Secretary: Mr John Alexander
National Treasurer: Mr Leonard Higgs
 

 

Melbourne Synod Adopts a PR Electoral System

 

The session of the Melbourne Anglican Synod reported in Quota Notes No. 62 to have adjourned in May, and to have referred a Bill on a proportional representation electoral system for examination by a Committee appointed by the Archbishop in Council, resumed in October.

 

The Committee, which included the PRSA National President, was chaired by the Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, Bishop James Grant. It submitted a modified Bill, which met concerns that had been expressed over drafting matters. This Bill left the details of the method of counting to be prescribed by regulations, which the Committee is expected to draft. The Bill had the following features:

 

  1. specific requirement for a quota-preferential method of PR to be used,
  2. marking of preferences, beyond the first, to be fully optional,
  3. a prescribed form for the ballot-paper, which included the important advice to voters

 

"Votes will be counted according to the quota-preferential method of proportional representation prescribed by Regulations under the Regulations of Elections Act 1980."

 

PRSA members should always make a point of advocating that the rules governing elections require that the name of the method of vote counting (whether it is PR or not) be stated on each ballot-paper, as it is usually the only dependable way that all voters will have the method drawn to their attention, at each future election.

 

Unfortunately the Tasmanian Assembly method of filling casual vacancies, which was envisaged by the May Bill, was replaced by the English General Synod method (which is also WA's Upper House method) of recounting all the ballot-papers at the previous election, disregarding preferences marked for the vacating candidate.

 

At its second reading, which was carried on the voices with hardly any noes, the Bill was supported by a member of the Committee, the Hon. Robert Fordham, who reminded Synod members of the electoral system that the Bill would remove and its recognized deficiencies, and indicated his approval of the change from the May Bill in the method of filling casual vacancies, and the provision for a periodic review and report to Synod of the operation of the new system.

 

After minor amendments in the Committee of the Whole Synod, two members of the Committee appointed by the Archbishop in Council, Mr Rick Brown and Professor John Scott, moved and seconded respectively that the Bill now pass. In both the House of Clergy and the House of Laity the Bill was passed on the voices, with no voices against. The Archbishop, Dr Keith Rayner, then announced that he expected he would give his assent to the Bill in due course.

 

 

SA Boundaries Commission Report

 

The PRSA's South Australian Branch has congratulated SA's Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission on its recent report in which it did not attempt to hide the fact that single-member systems cannot guarantee a fair result, as recent Canute-like legislation has called for, and it admitted that:

 

It was unable to confirm that, if the Liberals receive 51% of the popular vote, they would obtain an absolute majority of seats. At least one electorate will be larger than the 10% statutory tolerance.

 

As Liberal MP Graham Gunn said prophetically in the SA Parliament on 21st November 1991,

"It is obvious that, the way we are going, the single-member electoral system has just about run its race."

 

 

Asian Interest in PR Grows

 

The PRSA's National Research Officer, Mr Bogey Musidlak, has obtained interesting information from the Japanese Embassy on September's electoral reform bill, which unsuccessfully tried to institute a German style mixed member electoral system for the Japanese Lower House. Such an indirect and arbitrary procedure is attractive to party machines, but not to voters. Japan's multi-member electorates, where a single non-transferable vote applies, could easily and far better be modified to provide for a direct quota-preferential system.

 

Bogey also obtained information on the UN-sponsored peace plan for Cambodia, which Australian Government proposals helped to unstall. Those proposals canvassed various possible electoral systems. The system that gained favour was a party list system with the whole country as a single electorate, to avoid the administrative difficulties of boundaries between electorates. The indirect party list system is certainly far from ideal, but the approach taken is probably realistic given the intense rivalries and the difficulties of campaigning for individual candidates given the strife throughout the nation.

 

 

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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