Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia



Number 69 March 1993 www.prsa.org.au


         New Zealand Legislates for the 1993 Referendum on its Electoral System

         Voting Information for the 1993 Federal Elections

         City of Melbourne Report Urges PR

         General Elections with Robson Rotation

         Back issues of Quota Notes


New Zealand Legislates for the 1993 Referendum on its Electoral System


Following the 1992 poll on possible changes to the New Zealand electoral system, the NZ Government has brought into the NZ Parliament draft legislation for the operation of a referendum on the possible introduction of the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system to replace NZ's long-standing first-past-the-post procedure.


Unlike the 1992 poll, the referendum will have binding force and will thus, if carried, introduce MMP whether the Government or the Parliament likes it or not. A choice between the present electoral system and MMP will be one of two questions at the referendum.


The other question to be put at the referendum will ask the voters whether they favour - in the event that MMP is rejected - the creation of a Senate. The weak upper house proposed would be elected by the superior STV PR, and be added to the present Parliament, which consists of the Queen and House of Representatives only.


Voting Information for the 1993 Federal Elections


This year's Federal elections are producing their own examples of how voters are given insight into our electoral systems and how their votes are put into effect (if at all, in the case of winner-take-all systems).


On the positive innovative side is the use by the Australian Democrats of the term Voters' Choice Guide for what the other parties label How to Vote cards. No further comment is needed on the difference between the mentalities behind each of those descriptions.


The Australian Electoral Commission has also distributed, in the week before the polls, a brochure entitled Your federal election guide. Under the heading How the votes are counted it provides a page on the House of Representatives elections and a page on the Senate elections. The description of the counting of votes for House of Representatives elections is understandably relatively simple, as it is quite a crude electoral system.


The comparable description for the Senate would be expected to be less simple, but it does seem unfortunate that an unnecessarily offputting sentence appears as the second sentence in the Senate article The system is very complex.


Two thirds of the page is used to give an example of a count, which is possibly admirable in its intent, but is not executed as effectively as it could be because it becomes too literal, technical and detailed for widespread public involvement. Thus a quotient with 10 decimal places (0.4128273118) is initially quoted as the outcome of a division to calculate a transfer value, and the reader is then told that the quotient is taken to the 8th decimal point (sic), without rounding, and that this gives a transfer value of 0.41282731. (Do they expect the reader to be grateful for the reduction from 10 places to only 8?)


One of the registered parties in the Senate elections was so concerned about the presentation that it sent a serious letter of complaint to the Electoral Commission.


A much better approach for the AEC to have used (we do not want to pique the AEC, and have it abandon voter education!) was that adopted by the West Australian Electoral Commission in a newspaper advertisement in 1989 (See QN 53 for the praise we gave it) when a Senate-style electoral system was introduced for WA State Upper House elections.


City of Melbourne Report Urges PR


The City of Melbourne has, since changes in legislation in the early 1980s, had triennial elections with three vacancies per ward, but the vacancies have been filled by a majority-preferential multiple vote rather than by quota-preferential PR. Melbourne City Council, after a well-received submission from our Victorian Branch, has published recommendations to government for change in the legislation that include proposals for all its elections to be counted using quota-preferential proportional representation.


General Elections with Robson Rotation


Last year marked the tenth anniversary of Tasmania's (and the world's) first general election using Robson Rotation. This is a system for the printing of ballot-papers, within defined practical limits, in different batches of equal size so each candidate's name has an equal turn appearing in prescribed positions on the ballot-papers.


The Bill that successfully amended Tasmania's Electoral Act 1907 to implement the system was moved as a private member's Bill by Opposition Liberal frontbencher Neil Robson MHA and received Royal Assent in 1979. During its introduction into the House of Assembly the then ALP Premier, Hon. Doug Lowe MHA, was heard to call out Hear, hear! in support of it. At the time Mr Lowe and a majority of the elected Government MHAs were under pressure from the ALP's Party machine, which was keen to exert more influence than had traditionally been the case over which of the Party's candidates would be likely to be elected to Parliament from each of Tasmania's 5 seven-member electorates. The machine intended to achieve its influence by advertising in newspapers a recommended How to Vote ticket that would specify an order in which voters would be urged to mark the preferences on their ballot-papers.


Mainland readers have long been used to such newspaper advertisements and to having How to Vote cards thrust at them as they approach polling booths. They might be surprised that, by tacit agreement between the parties and a concern about adverse public reaction to attempts to dictate a voting order among the, typically seven, candidates of the same party in each electorate, such an approach had never been used in Tasmanian State elections. This was despite (perhaps it was because of) Tasmania's starting to use preferential voting a quarter of a century before the rest of Australia. Instead of a prescriptive How to Vote card order, the parties issued cards that listed the names of the party's candidates and advised voters to vote 1 to 7 in your order of choice. [Only seven preferences need to be marked for a vote to be valid in Tasmanian Assembly elections.]


There was little doubt in 1979 that the order the machine operators had in mind was different from the order that the party's voters had been choosing for some time, in the traditional absence of Party guidance on the ranking of the Party's candidates.


The Robson Rotation system was first used in a unique seven-vacancy by-election poll in 1980. This had been necessitated by a special Act of Parliament that caused all seven seats in the electorate of Denison to be vacated following a Supreme Court decision, over some irregularities in campaign spending, that had declared void the previous election of three of the existing Labor MHAs. The outcome, and its demonstration of how Robson Rotation protected voters from a Senate type poll - stage-managed by the Party Machine - is detailed in Quota Notes No. 60.


The first of the four General Elections at which Robson Rotation has been used was held on 15th May 1982. At the previous two General Elections (1976 and 1979) a 1973 amendment to the Electoral Act 1907 had required that all ballot-papers for an electorate be identical, with the order of candidates' names within groups being determined by lot.


Prior to that the order of candidates' names within groups had been alphabetical. The Commonwealth (in 1984) and other States have since followed that first move of Tasmania's to change from alphabetical order to order by lot, but they have as yet moved no further, despite the fact that Robson Rotation has also successfully operated in Tasmania's Upper House, where votes are counted using the same single-member preferential vote counting system that applies in Australia's Federal and mainland State lower houses.

Robson Rotation was part of the Hare-Clark option that was approved by ACT voters last year and it is expected to be included in a new ACT Electoral Act to reflect that.


Page 3 shows an analysis of two consecutive polls in a Tasmanian electorate, Braddon - one just before and one after Robson Rotation had become law. It demonstrates the ability of voters, even though the polls are three years apart, to identify and select the candidates they want whether, as applied until late 1979, they are in a fixed order or, as applied from then, in the varied order Robson Rotation provides. Robson Rotation has in no way distorted the wishes of that electorate. Rather it has forestalled those party machine operators that seek to achieve excessive influence for their views at the expense of the influence of voters generally. It has done that by making any attempt to foist rigid prescribed voting tickets on voters impractical, and transparently manipulative.


An illustration of how Robson Rotation operates is given on Page 4, which shows the ten different ballot-paper patterns that were used for the seven-member electorate of Denison in the most recent Assembly election, in 1992.



For each group below, the elected* candidates are, at right, listed in the order of their election, and the unelected candidates in the reverse order of their exclusion.



1993 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

National President: Geoffrey Goode 18 Anita Street BEAUMARIS VIC 3193

National Secretary: John Alexander 5 Bray Street MOSMAN NSW 2088

Tel: (03) 9589 1802, 0429176725 info@prsa.org.au

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