Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia
QN66 June 1992 www.prsa.org.au
Official: Poll on New Zealand Electoral System in September
The Electoral Reform Coaltion in New Zealand has reported that the New Zealand Parliament has passed legislation that requires that an indicative poll of all NZ voters, on possible changes to the New Zealand electoral system, be held on Saturday, 19th September 1992. Provided the outcome of that poll favours a change, a binding decision to change the electoral system is achievable at a referendum to be held with the 1993 General Election.Two questions will be submitted to voters in September. The first will simply ask whether the voter is or is not in favour of a change to the electoral system for the New Zealand House of Representatives. The voter is to mark whichever of the following two statements is preferred:
The present system, which has existed since parliamentary elections began in New Zealand, is a system of single-
member electorates with first-past-the-post voting and counting in each electorate.
The second question in September, to be answered by and counted for all voters, regardless of their response to the first question, is to indicate which one, of four particular electoral systems proposed, the voter would prefer if the electoral system were to be changed.
The four systems, in the order they are to appear on the ballot-paper, are:
A. Supplementary MemberMost unfortunately, the voting on the choice of these four systems will be decided by a first-past-the-post count. Thus the first question above may be carried by an absolute majority of the vote, i.e. over 50%, but this second question may be decided by a mere relative majority, i.e. as few as a handful over 25% of the vote. If none of the four options receives an absolute majority of the vote it will nevertheless be offered in 1993 as the only option other than the existing system.
The tragedy with this approach is the whole fallacy of first-past-the-post voting. An absolute majority of voters may want reform, provided it is any of several options except the one that is chosen by the largest minority of voters. That is the way the first September question could be carried, but the 1993 poll lost. The solution would be to require September's option poll to be by preferential voting. Any populace considering preferential voting has to be prepared to use it for the first time. Australia embarked on it around 1919 for elections to both houses both in the States and federally, with multiple vacancies being filled in the Senate. If the largely rural and less well-educated Australians of 70 years ago could handle preferential voting, why can't New Zealanders today?
Option A is fairly similar to the existing New Zealand system except that a small number of extra seats are added to the existing large number of single-member first-past-the-post electorates. Only those extra seats would be filled as a group - by a nation-wide party list, as opposed to a quota-preferential, proportional representation election.
Option B is a quota-preferential system similar to that used in Australia's Senate and various State Houses. New Zealand would be divided into a relatively small number of multi-member electorates instead of the present large number of single-member electorates. It is the only type of proportional representation that has been legislated for before in New Zealand, and was used in certain New Zealand municipal elections for a number of years.
Option C is similar to the German Bundestag electoral system. Half the seats in the New Zealand House of Representatives would be elected as at present, except that, because there would be only half the present number of single-member electorates, each would contain twice the present number of electors. The other half of the seats would be elected from a nation-wide electorate by a party list vote on a second ballot-paper where essentially the voter is unable to vote for other than a registered party ticket, with no or very little power to decide which individual persons to advance within or among such party groupings. This second ballot-paper is used, unlike Option A, to augment deficiencies in party representation overall.
Option D is the only fully single-member electoral
system, with no proportional element intended. It is
identical to the system used for Australia's House of
UK Conservatives Nearly Missed Their Unearnt Majority of Seats
The British Conservative Party gained an absolute majority of 21 seats in the House of Commons elected on 9th April 1992 despite their UK-wide vote being 42.3%. That obviously non-proportional result is a consequence of the UK's single-member electorate system. What is not so obvious is the extreme closeness with which those 21 seats were won, and how easily small changes in voting could have produced a very different result. The table on Page 4 gives details of those 21 seats and shows how all of them would have been lost to the Conservatives if fewer that 1000 Conservative voters in each seat had either voted for any other candidates, had voted informally or had simply not voted. The total number of voters that could have effected such a change was a mere 10,676.
The approximate nation-wide proportions of votes and
seats are shown in the graph and table below:
The graph highlights the fact that the combined total of Labour and Liberal Democrat votes exceeded 50% - it was 53%. Had those two parties formed an alliance, as had been mooted, not to stand against each other at this election on the clear understanding that they would introduce legislation for PR before the next election, they might have been able to form a coalition government.
Mr Deane Crabb, Secretary of the PRSA's South Australian Branch, recently drew attention to the very satisfactory way in which the Australian Electoral Commission is publicizing and conducting the filling of casual vacancies in Regional Councils under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Act 1989.
The Act requires that such vacancies be filled by a re-examination of the ballot-papers that formed the quota of votes that elected the vacating member. That method has applied for the Tasmanian Assembly since 1918 after Mr John Humphries, the Secretary of the British Proportional Representation Society, courageously voyaged out to Tasmania during World War I to urge a Select Committee of the Tasmanian Parliament to adopt that procedure.
The ATSIC Act requires a call for continuing
candidates, and the result of the re-examination, to
be published in an appropriate newspaper. An AEC
advertisement last month announced the result for the
casual vacancy in the Ngintaka Regional Council. It
explained that declarations were received from the
following unsuccessful candidates (from the election
held on 3rd November 1990) requesting that their names
be included in the recount to fill the casual vacancy:
The term recount is specified in the ATSIC Act, but does have the disadvantage that it can be confused with the established and quite separate recount necessary when a challenge to the result of an election is investigated. Tasmanians have long called the procedure a countback, which does have the benefit of being a term used solely for that procedure, although it is not of itself very illuminating as to what is being done. The PRSA has tended to use the term re-examination, as it is separate from the established recount, and lends itself to an elaboration, if that is necessary, of what is being done.
The voters for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Regional
Councils are fortunate indeed in not only having
quota-preferential PR for their periodic elections but
also having direct control over who fills casual
vacancies. Furthermore they are informed for each such
vacancy, by statutory newspaper advertisements, as to
who the continuing candidates are, and which one was
elected. By comparison the general Australian voter
for the Senate is treated with indifference regarding
casual vacancies. Such voters have no direct vote on
who is to fill a casual vacancy, which can be nearly
all of the 6-year term, and there is not even a
statutory newspaper advertisement to explain the
procedure or announce the result.
* Senator John Olsen, who has recently been replaced by Senator Alan Ferguson, was himself not elected by the voters of South Australia.
This illustrates Professor Arthur Burns's comment that Senate seats are being passed on almost like seats in the House of Lords. Unlike the Australian Senate the House of Lords has no pretensions to being a democratic chamber. Mr Olsen resigned his SA seat to enter the Senate, which had SA taxpayers paying for a State by-election poll. He then resigned his Senate seat to re-enter the State Assembly at a later by-election, hoping to win his party's leadership, but he was not elected as leader. Senator Ferguson was chosen by a joint sitting of the SA Parliament from a list with only one name on it - his. The Parliament had not been sitting at the time and both houses had to be recalled for this purely formal rubber stamp exercise in sham democracy.
Quota Notes will keep reporting further such appointments of substitute senators to remind readers of the undemocratic nature of Section 15 of the Commonwealth Constitution, which governs Senate casual vacancies, and of the much better system of re-examining General Election ballot-papers as applies for Tasmania's Assembly.Three names that appeared in the 1992 Queen's Birthday Honours List, for reasons not directly related to PR, are those of people that have indicated significant and worthwhile support for quota-preferential electoral systems.
The Hon. Donald Chipp AO, founding Leader of the Australian Democrats Party, which has, from when he founded it, consistently advocated PR for lower houses in Australia, is now an Officer of the Order of Australia.
The Hon. Alan Hunt AM, President of the Legislative Council of Victoria, which is the only mainland upper house that lacks PR, is now a Member of the Order. Mr Hunt has not been able to persuade his party to support PR, but he is widely believed to have tried hard, particularly when he was the Party's Upper House Leader.
Mr Colin Ball OAM, former Chief
State Electoral Officer for Tasmania, now holds the
medal of the Order. Mr Ball, before his retirement
Mr Ball recently agreed to a request by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London to give similar help in forthcoming PR elections in Mozambique, and he is now there as the senior electoral consultant during the 12 to 18-month lead-up to the Mozambique election. His work there will include drawing up an electoral register (Mozambique has a population of over 8 million), and many of the fine details necessary for the proper implementation of the electoral system.
Given Mr Ball's African work and Senator Gareth
Evans's efforts towards PR in Cambodia
A tribute is due to Mr Lew Ellis, a longstanding
advocate in South Australia of proportional
representation, who died recently. He first joined the
SA Branch in 1946, and was President in 1962-70 and
1976-78. As Secretary in 1970-74 he was succeeded by the
present Secretary, Deane Crabb. As an Enfield City
Council alderman Lew continually pressed for PR
elections. SA's present local government legislation
reflects his efforts as it now allows PR as an option.
The SA Branch awarded him Honorary Life Membership in
1988 in recognition of his services to the cause.
Members of the PRSA offer their condolences to his widow
UK GENERAL ELECTION - 9TH APRIL 1992
Margin of Conservative Lead in the 21 closest Conservative-won Seats
Malapportionment nationwide is also marked. Enrolments in the 651 seats ranged from 22,784 in Western Isles (Labour) to 99,838 in Isle of Wight (Conservative) - which represents a 62% tolerance. Australian federal law, which aims at a 10% tolerance, effectively eliminates malapportionment. It is nevertheless a relatively minor defect of single-member electorate systems, and is not the major reason why they are so unrepresentative.
Reason? - at least half the votes in each single-member electorate fail to elect anybody.
©1992 PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION OF SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA
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