Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia
QN67 September 1992 www.prsa.org.au
At the indicative poll of all NZ voters, on possible changes to the New Zealand electoral system, on 19th September 1992, 84.5% of the voters answered the first question by favouring a change from the present system of first-past-the-post voting in single member electorates.
The percentages of the vote cast for the four possible electoral system options offered in the second question were:
Supplementary Member 5.5%
Single Transferable Vote 17.5%
Mixed Member Proportional 70.3%
Preferential Voting 6.6%
Commentators were initially surprised at the unexpectedly decisive nature of the result, but they soon pointed out the low turnout of voters at what was officially, but erroneously, called a Referendum. They suggested that the turnout, which is expected to not exceed 55% even when absentee and other delayed votes have been counted, would have lacked a very large number of the supporters of the status quo. The supporters of the present single member system were generally aware that the poll was not the final or binding poll - that poll (which is to be a true referendum) is scheduled to coincide with the 1993 General Election polls.
The 1992 poll has shown that 46.5% of those on the electoral roll have voted for a change from the present electoral system, and that the percentages of the roll that have voted for the options above are, in the order they are listed above:
SM 3.0% STV 9.6% MMP 38.7% PV 3.6%
If it is assumed that those that voted this year will collectively not have changed their minds much by next year, the big remaining questions are how many extra people will vote in 1993 and which way will they vote? That depends very much on the way the question will be put. At this stage it appears that it will be put as a choice between the present system and MMP, which was the option that gained an absolute majority of votes in the second question in 1992 although, because of the low turnout, it failed to gain an absolute majority of those entitled to vote. How many of the 61.3% of enrolled voters that failed to support MMP in 1992 will do so in 1993?
The cases for the options that were circulated to all voters at the Government's expense were prepared by the Electoral Referendum Panel, chaired by the Chief Ombudsman,and not by proponents of the particular option involved. A newspaper article putting the case for STV is shown on Page 4. A letter from the PRSA National President championing STV and pointing out the main disadvantages of MMP was published in several NZ daily papers.
The possibility has been mentioned that between now and the 1993 poll the NZ Government might amend the existing legislation to add a further question to the poll regarding the possible creation of an Upper House. In refining the 1993 poll it would be fairer if the Government were to have two questions on the electoral system rather than the single question presently envisaged. The first question could be binding as to whether or not the voter wanted to retain the present electoral system. The second question could be binding as to whether the new electoral system (assuming the first question makes a change mandatory) would be MMP or STV. The need for that fairness derives from the very low turnout for the 1992 indicative poll. At that poll the two most strongly supported options were MMP and STV, which together gained the support of 48.4% of the enrolled voters. This would make the 1993 poll a true runoff poll - a common mechanism in countries (USA, France, etc.) that recognize the weakness of plurality (first-past-the-post) systems, but have not yet adopted a true preferential system.
Supporters of MMP that opposed the suggestion above would have to be very blind to the superiority of STV over the status quo, or very fearful that STV might be preferred to MMP. If NZ parliamentarians, who are said to be predominantly in favour of the present electoral system, were to find that MMP supporters found reasons to oppose the concept of that second run-off question, they might even warm to the idea.
A major, high quality book on
Terry Newman, the
Parliamentary Librarian, wrote the
book, and Mr Neil
Robson, former Tasmanian
Electoral Minister and
A feature of the
launching, which was a measure of
the pride Tasmanians have in their
world-leading electoral system,
was the attendance of the Premier
of Tasmania, the Hon. Ray Groom
MHA (Liberal), together with all
six surviving former premiers of
Pleasingly the book reproduces material from three separate PRSA publications and makes frequent mention of the late Mr J.F.H. Wright's book, Mirror of the Nation's Mind ($7 post free from PRSA).
The 320-page softcover Hare-Clark book is available by writing to the Tasmanian Parliamentary Library, Parliament House, HOBART TAS 7000, enclosing a cheque or money order for $39.95 (includes postage) payable to Tasmanian Parliamentary Library.
The elections on 19th September 1992 for Queensland's only House of Parliament showed that the change from the system of malapportionment involving 4 zones to a much milder one has done little to change the Parliament's makeup. The advent of fully optional preferential voting had little effect as all major parties still urged voters to complete all squares, although some minor party votes did become exhausted.
A PR analysis provided by our Queensland Branch involved dividing the State into twelve 7-member districts and one 5-member district. The approximate results at the time of going to press are summarized below:
The success of the Nationals reflects the geographical concentration of their supporters. The Liberals continue to suffer from a dispersed vote. Although they received nearly as high a vote as the Nationals they received only a third the number of seats. One would think that the Queensland Liberal Party might join the Tasmanian and ACT Liberal Party Divisions and begin to see some merit in the Hare-Clark electoral system.
The ALP narrowly missed an absolute majority of first preference votes overall, but Hare-Clark would give it an adequate Parliamentary majority, as the opposition was so fragmented. As in the past, Queensland is characterized by a strong correlation between region and party. The ALP is strong in Brisbane and the coastal regional cities - the Nationals are strong in the rural south-east and west and various hinterland seats. The remnants are left for the Liberals. Without a strong regional focus, or a Hare-Clark system, they will continue to flounder, whether malapportionment is pronounced, mild, or non-existent.
Late last year an important body, the Constitutional Centenary Foundation, was established, with the former Governor-General and High Court Justice, Sir Ninian Stephen, as Chairman of an incorporated association to encourage "Australians to consider whether some of the legal and government institutions that have evolved over the past 90 years can be improved or made more relevant to the approaching 21st Century."
The first issue of Constitutional Centenary, the newsletter of the Foundation, stated that the CCF had commissioned articles on eight different aspects of Parliament, one of which was Electoral Systems; that later in 1992 it would publish a comprehensive Issues Paper based on these articles; that it would then hold a series of seminars around Australia at which the topic can be fully discussed; and that the Foundation is keen to receive submissions - both verbal and oral - from interested members of the public on this topic. Applications for membership of the CCF ($25 per year) should be made to CCF, 109 Barry Street, CARLTON VIC 3053 (Tel. 03 3491846, Fax 03 3491779).
The CCF has attracted comment from a former senator, Mr John Stone, as a spokesman for the recently established Samuel Griffith Society, which seeks to defend the present Constitution from unwise, hasty, or unnecessary changes. Mr Stone (See Leave No Stone Unturned - QN58 June 1990) said that the CCF appeared to be a stalking horse for republican and other movements that were seeking radical changes. Although such comments do not promise much in the way of reform in the electoral area, we might hope that the SGS will defend the important provisions in Sections 7 and 24 that require that MPs be directly chosen by the people, if they were to be threatened. Don't be complacent - New Zealand has just moved closer to having indirect elections of MPs foisted on many innocent or unwilling voters. The former Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Harry Gibbs, is also a prominent member of the SGS.
Mr Deane Crabb, Secretary of the PRSA's SA Branch, has obtained the SA Hansard of 26th May 1992 in which 3 full pages of small print record the 26 minutes of proceedings, in the art deco interior of SA's Legislative Council Chamber, of a Joint Sitting involving 17 MLCs, 34 MLAs and, among other Parliamentary officials, the Clerk of each House.
That expenditure of time and money and unnecessary use of the force and dignity of Parliament was required of South Australia by the ill-considered casual vacancy provisions of Section 15 of the Commonwealth Constitution, which should instead prescribe the democratic and cost-saving method of re-examining the ballot-papers.
Professor Peter Singer, of Victoria's Monash University, is a key figure in the planned establishment of a new international body - the International Assciation of Bioethics. He has contacted the PRSA for advice on the wording of clauses in the Draft Constitution of the proposed Society that would provide the fairest and most flexible electoral system to ensure that the Boards to be elected would properly represent a range of viewpoints, and their incidence, around the world.
After considering the PRSA's advice, Professor Singer has included in the draft constitution a clause that requires that votes be counted by the quota-preferential method of proportional representation, in accordance with the Proportional Representation Manual of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia. The meeting to adopt the constitution is to be in the Netherlands, whose national electoral system uses the inferior and indirect form of PR, the party list.
©1992 PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION OF SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA
National President: Geoffrey Goode
18 Anita Street BEAUMARIS VIC 3193
National Secretary: John Alexander
5 Bray Street MOSMAN NSW 2088
Telephone: (03) 589 1802; (02) 960 2193
Facsimile: (03) 589 1802
Printed by PINK PANTHER INSTANT PRINTING
12 Pirie Street ADELAIDE SA 5000