QUOTA    NOTES

 

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

Number 71                September 1993               www.prsa.org.au

 


New Zealand Electoral Referendum Approaches

 

Last year New Zealanders voted in an advisory poll to indicate their views on whether their single-member electorate first-past-the-post electoral procedure should be changed, and which of four alternatives nominated should be used if change was sought. The indications for change, and a change to a German type electoral procedure, called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) in New Zealand, were quite substantial. The National Party Government promised legislation, which has been passed, to hold at the time of the next election a referendum that would produce a binding decision on whether MMP would replace the present system. That election has now been called for 6th November. Earlier indications suggested that the referendum might include an option to create a Senate, but that option has not been proceeded with.

 

MMP would leave half of the seats in the unicameral Parliament filled by the present procedure, based on the first of two ballot-papers given together to each voter. The remaining half of the seats would not be filled directly by the voters, but would be filled from closed party lists with the numbers selected from each list being in proportion to the numbers of votes for parties (not individual candidates) marked by voters on their second, separate and distinct ballot-paper. The parties, and not the voters, would decide the order of the names on the list, which would be fixed and unalterable by the voters.

 

The PRSA unequivocally supports the quota-preferential form of proportional representation, which is best exemplified in Tasmania's Hare-Clark system and which involves direct election, with all MPs being elected by the same counting system. It is quite impossible for the PRSA to support a procedure whereby half the seats are filled from single-member electoral districts. It is also unacceptable that the other half of the seats are being filled by people that voters have no direct electoral control over. Mr Malcolm Mackerras, in major articles in The Australian on 31st December 1992, and 15th September 1993, has labelled MMP a ratbag scheme.

 

He has been campaigning in New Zealand against MMP, and warns of the unfair and unpredictable penalty that will apply to the party that gains most of the directly elected seats, which they cannot be blamed for winning given their high vote relative to others. They will be penalized by having far less than their proportionate share of the indirectly elected seats. One will not compensate for the other as vacancies for directly elected seats are filled by a new poll, which the party may lose, whereas vacancies in the indirectly elected seats are automatically filled by the next available Party Machine candidate on the closed list. The directly elected MPs have to please both Party Machine and the electorate, but the others can be singled out for exclusive acceptance or rejection by the Party Machine only.

 

Mr Mackerras predicted a narrow loss for MMP. He also rightly scorned the unavailability of preferences which, with the 5% threshold, leads to all votes for a party getting less than 5% going into the rubbish bin. Splinter parties proliferate under rigid list systems, so six parties each gaining some 4% of the vote could see 24% of the vote entirely wasted. On ABC radio he described it as not being an electoral system at all, but rather a mechanism for deciding how many of their appointees each Party Machine would be allowed to make to what would be the Party Machine half of the Parliament.

 

The most promising indication in this unhappy choice between two unsatisfactory systems is the suggestion that the legislation to implement the referendum may prescribe a trial period for MMP following which a further test of public opinion must be held. People could then compare the systems after having experienced each in action. Furthermore it would leave the door open for quota-preferential PR to be considered, and that could be put as an option that might in the end be acceptable to a larger proportion of voters than either of the faulty systems in November's referendum. Also, it would survive a trial!

 

Nominations for National Office-bearers for 1994-95


It is the turn this year for the Returning Officer for the above PRSA elections to be the Secretary of the Queensland Branch, Mr Tom Round. Under the PRSA Constitution, nominations, for President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer, need to be signed by the candidate only, as consent to nomination, and should be received by Mr Round at 10 Nelson St, DUTTON PARK QLD 4102 by 31st October 1993.

 

Any candidate may submit a statement of up to one hundred words to the Returning Officer, who shall submit it to voters with the ballot-papers. The two-year term of each office begins on 1st January 1994. If any poll is required, ballot-papers will be posted on 7th November 1993, and the poll will close on 14th December 1993. Results will appear in December's Quota Notes.

 


 Proposal for 2 MHRs per Division


The Hon. Jim Carlton MHR, a member of the Opposition Front Bench, has produced his own proposal for what he and many others see as the need to have a greater proportion of female members of the House of Representatives. He favours amending the Commonwealth Electoral Act, and the Constitution, as would surely be necessary, to halve the present number of electoral divisions, but have two vacancies per division, with one being open to male candidates only and the other being open to female candidates only. He proposes that voters in each division, regardless of which sex they were, would each have a single vote for each of the two seats.

 

There is a fundamental problem with all such schemes where law makers entrench permanent restrictions on the voter, rather than having each and every voter at each election individually making his or her direct untrammelled choice from a wide range of candidates. It is the attempt to remove from every voter's control at each election one of the factors that voters should remain entitled to include in their choice each time. At present each voter's intended contribution to the composition of a particular House as indicated by the voter's first preference vote is, among numerous other factors, for a male candidate or a female candidate. Obviously a given voter with a single transferable vote is unable to give, whether the division is single-member or multi-member, a first preference vote to both sexes equally - a choice has to be made.

 

In single-member electorates, where organized parties nearly always restrict themselves to a single candidate, they have mainly preselected males in the winnable seats. Of the 147 MHRs in this 37th House of Representatives only 12 (8.2%) are women. It is ministers from this House that are currently pointing the finger at the judiciary, whom such ministers alone have selected over the years. They are deploring the failure of their appointees to collectively reflect the composition of sex, age and race in the community. It appears not to bother them greatly that they, the appointers, do not collectively reflect it either. Perhaps the failure of the judiciary to be a mirror might be related to the failure of the House to be a mirror. Measures to make the judges of transgressors against our laws collectively more reflective are being touted, but the obvious and more fundamental measure, to make the instigator and maker of our laws, our Lower House, more a Mirror of the Nation's Mind, by converting to multi-member divisions and using a Hare-Clark form of proportional representation for the election of MHRs, has not inspired those that profess such concerns about judges.

 

In multi-member electorates, like the Senate's, parties normally stand more candidates than they suppose will be elected, just in case their percentage of the vote is higher than expected. If all the candidates standing for a particular party were extremely similar, including being of the same sex, a proportion of voters might look for something different in another party. If however the diversity of the party's candidates is maximized, without being inconsistent with the party's essential principles, the range of that party's voters happy to stay loyal is also maximized. As a result candidates of both sexes are normally offered in all Senate electorates by all successful parties, and there are 16 female senators (21.1%).

 

A much better illustration of the effect of multi-member electorates with PR is given by Tasmania's Hare-Clark system where, unlike the stage-managed Senate ballot-paper, the ballot-paper shows an order of candidates' names down the columns that is not selected by the parties. Under Robson Rotation, ballot-papers are printed in equal batches having different orders. Australia's first nation-wide use of Robson Rotation is occurring now in the postal ballot of telephone customers choosing between Telecom Australia and Optus. To remove bias, the ballot administrator, Austel, has printed half the ballot-papers with Telecom on the left side and half with Optus there.

 

Unlike the Senate ballot-paper format, as dumped former senators will attest, the Tasmanian Assembly format lacks death seats that virtually guarantee non-election. Those Senate positions are often awarded by a Party Machine to candidates that it honours publicly, but that can be safely relied upon to have been positioned where there is minimal risk of their being elected. In Hare-Clark, the need to provide candidates to fill casual vacancies by countback ensures that parties nominate many more candidates than the number they expect to be elected. Also the parties know they have to be candidates of quality because, as the order of candidates' names down the ballot-paper is not stage-managed like the Senate's, voters might actually elect them. These days the parties tend to nominate enough men and women to allow equal numbers to be elected if voters wish that, but Hare-Clark does not force it. The exact balance of men and women is a matter for the voters' priorities, as it should be.

 

Much rhetoric about improving the representation of women is confused by the ambiguous meaning of the word represent and its derivatives in the English language. The Concise Oxford Dictionary lists six meanings, the last of which is the parliamentary one where choice is involved. The five meanings listed earlier focus on likeness to, corresponding to and symbolizing the subject being represented. It may be this linguistic uncertainty that stimulates the naive proposal that a House is representative if the fixed and unarguable characteristics of its members are reflective of the readily discernible and objectively describable characteristics of the people that it represents. Such a shallow approach could lead to suggestions that the distribution of age, race, income, intelligence etc. in a House should be the same as that among the electors generally. Those with that approach should be reminded of the need for as many voters as possible to have the representative they choose whether that MP resembles them or not - hence the phrase Mirror of the Nation's MIND, If the name for a PR House were being coined today, the term House of Electees might be considered. It more clearly shows the relationship needed between electors and MPs.

 

Mr Carlton has a legitimate complaint about most of Australia's winner-take-all Lower House systems, but his remedy is arbitrary and undemocratic. It would unreasonably constrain female voters as a class at a particular future election where they may actually prefer, of the available candidates of both sexes, a preponderance of males. Likewise at such an election male voters as a class might prefer, by a significantly larger margin, a majority of females. The proper outcome there, which PR would deliver, would be for a moderate preponderance of females to be elected. Mr Carlton's rigid rules would leave us with exactly equal numbers regardless of the quality of the candidates, or the wishes of the electors.

 

A Record Early Start to the Senate Casual Vacancies Game

Hopes for a reasonable breathing space before Quota Notes had to report the swearing-in of the first indirectly elected senator for the Senate season that began on 1st July were dashed only five days after the season began.

 

Senator Michael Tate stood as an endorsed ALP candidate for the poll on 13th March 1993 to fill the six periodic Senate vacancies for Tasmania for 1993-99, and duly achieved a quota of votes. The Australian of 7th August reported that he decided on 19th March to leave the Senate and accept a Government offer of appointment as Australia's next Ambassador to the Netherlands and to the Vatican.

 

Following that decision he completed his 1987-93 term, which ended on 30th June and, on 1st July, began the 1993-99 term for which he had been elected. Senator Tate resigned from the Senate on 5th July - only four days from the beginning of the six-year fixed term for which many thousands of Tasmanians had elected him. The cost of the polling for his direct election was paid for from the general taxation raised by the Commonwealth.

 

Unlike Tasmania's direct election by countback for vacancies in its Assembly, filling the Senate vacancy involved three separate operations none of which involved most of those that had voted for Mr Tate. The Mercury of 19th July in Hobart reported the typical bitterness within the Party Machine associated with its naming the usually sole candidate that is ultimately appointed under the indirect procedures of Section 15 of the Commonwealth Constitution. A Labor MHA, Mrs Judy Jackson, a former State Minister, lost the contest for the critical Centre-Left nomination for the remaining 99% of the six-year Senate term to Mrs Kay Denman, who was private secretary to Hon. Michael Field when he was Premier.

 

The Mercury reported Mrs Jackson as saying that she felt Mrs Denham may have been manipulated by the male ruling clique in the Centre-Left faction, to which they both belonged. Party sources said that it could be seen that Mrs Denman was only filling the position until the urgency of having a woman candidate died down and the seat could be taken by a man, and also said that another member of that faction, Michael Aird MHA, had indicated a desire to be chosen until the decision was made that a woman should take the position.

"There needs to be more women in politics but they should be chosen on their merits and not simply as part of a power play by the men,"  Mrs Jackson said. She said after her defeat she was considering her options, which could include taking her campaign to the rank and file members although it was unlikely, because of the need for party unity.

 

After the Centre-Left had concluded its contest to decide its preferred candidate, Mrs Denham was nominated by it at a plebiscite of all Tasmanian ALP members to decide who would be put forward as the Party Machine's sole candidate, to be formally appointed by a joint sitting of the Tasmanian Parliament. Former senator Terry Aulich, who had been dumped to fourth position down the stage-managed Senate ballot-paper, and was assured because of that placement of not being re-elected, stood at that plebiscite but was defeated by Mrs Denham who, unlike him, had not been presented as a candidate to the Tasmanian people at the 1993 Senate elections. The Australian reported that Mrs Denham received 63% of the vote at the plebiscite.

 

Calm did not yet prevail. The Mercury of 25th August reported that three members, from both Houses of Tasmania's Parliament, including Green Independent and former law lecturer, Dr Gerry Bates MHA, argued that the joint sitting should be adjourned so that the Speaker could get legal advice on the disputed rules that had been adopted for the joint sitting, including whether they were constitutional. Claims were made that the procedures did not give Parliament a choice, that there was no formal vote taken, and that there was no independent check on the eligibility of Mrs Denman to take a seat in Federal Parliament. Section 15 of the Commonwealth Constitution is ill-conceived, and should be replaced by a countback system to allow direct election by the voters.


The present Life Peeresses (there are only peeresses at the moment) in Australia's Upper House are:

 

VACATING SENATOR

SUBSTITUTE SENATOR

STATE

PARTY

END OF TERM

J. Vallentine

C. Chamarette

WA

Greens

30JUN1996

M. Tate

K. Denman

Tas.

ALP

30JUN1999

 

Activity in the A.C.T.


The Convenor of the PRSA's ACT Branch, Mr Bogey Musidlak, has written to the ACT's Chief Minister, Ms Rosemary Follett, with several constructive suggestions to assist in the drafting of legislation to implement the Hare-Clark system in the Territory, and inquiring when it would be completed. Ms Follett's letter in reply stated,

"Comprehensive legislation to implement the Hare-Clark system is currently being drafted. The legislation will be introduced into the Legislative Assembly later this year".

 

She also invited Bogey to discuss the Branch's suggestions with an officer of her Department responsible for electoral matters.

 

Earlier the ACT Branch had made submissions on the boundaries to be adopted for the three electoral districts that the ACT is to be divided into for its first Hare-Clark election. The boundaries to be used were gazetted in early September.

 

Bogey was also active in his role as the PRSA's National Research Officer in which capacity he presented the Society's submission to the Federal Parliament's Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters in its Inquiry into the Conduct of the 1993 Election. A columnist in The Canberra Times of 6th September based his column on the Society's submission and headed it Swill is in Reps, not the Senate.

 

Thesis on Preferential Voting


Congratulations are in order for the Secretary of the PRSA's Queensland
Branch, Mr Tom Round, who has had his degree thesis entitled A Matter of Preference? Defending the Single Transferable Vote accepted by the University of Queensland. One of the examiners in the Department of Government that approved the thesis was Mr Colin Hughes, the former head of the Australian Electoral Commission. The thesis is timely in view of New Zealand's sorry choice between two non-preferential systems, as it illuminates the inadequacy of both and contrasts them effectively with their preferential counterparts.

 

 

Quota Notes Article reported in the Senate


The leading article on the March election, in Quota Notes No. 70, was the subject of an enlightened and informative seven-minute speech to the Senate on the afternoon of 19th August by Senator John Coulter of South Australia.

 

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; (02) 9960 2193  info@prsa.org.au

 

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