QUOTA  NOTES

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

        Number 72                     December 1993              www.prsa.org.au

 

·         Groom Government Attempts to Weaken Hare-Clark

·         ACT Government Breaks its Undertakings on Hare-Clark

·         NZ to Abandon its Electoral System of Single-Member Districts Only

·         PRSA Invited to Constitutional Centenary Foundation Forum

·         “O Canada!”

·         Real Choices/New Voices

·         National Office-Bearers for 1994-95

·         South Australia’s Supposed “Landslide”

·         Initiative for South Africa

·         Obituaries

·         List of issues of Quota Notes

 

Groom Government Attempts to Weaken Hare-Clark

 

A sudden attempt by Tasmania's Liberal Party Government, without significant prior publicity or public inquiry, to adversely alter Tasmania's Constitution Act 1934 by reverting to the pre-1958 arrangement of having 6 members per Assembly electoral district instead of the 7 that have been established for the last 25 years, has suffered a temporary setback thanks to public vigilance, opposition by the ALP and the Green Independents and, most importantly, the decidedly non-ALP Upper House.


The Legislative Assembly, whose majority forms the Government, and which is elected by the Hare-Clark form of proportional representation, passed a Government Bill that would return Tasmania to the unfortunate condition where each electoral district would elect an even number of MHAs rather than an odd number. With only 6 seats, a majority of votes of less than 57% in a district can elect only 3 MHAs, leaving the other 3 able to be elected by a minority as low as 43%. Past Tasmanian experience found this discrepancy to be a far less satisfactory use of Hare-Clark than the use with 7 members, where a group of candidates that receives an absolute majority of votes can be sure of gaining a majority of seats in that district.


A major public meeting called to protest against the manoeuvre filled the Hobart Town Hall. Speakers included Malcolm Mackerras, from the ACT. A message of opposition to the change, from the PRSA National President, was placed on the seats in the Hall and read out to the meeting by the Green Independent MHA for Denison, Ms Peg Putt. Letters from him also appeared in The Mercury in Hobart and The Examiner in Launceston.


The Legislative Council resolved that the Bill should be subjected to an Inquiry in 1994 before it would consider it again. Articles in The Mercury by Dr George Howatt, who wrote the original report to both Houses of Parliament recommending the use of 7 MHAs per district, and discussions between him and most of the 19 MLCs greatly assisted the Upper House in its wise decision.

 

ACT Government Breaks Its Undertakings on Hare-Clark

 

The minority Follett ALP Government tabled its Electoral (Amendment) Bill 1993 in the ACT's unicameral legislature on 16th December in response to the 1992 ACT plebiscite where 65% of ACT voters chose a pure Hare-Clark electoral system. Hare-Clark was specified in detail in the official plebiscite material as the alternative option to the single-member electorates openly favoured for the ACT by both the Federal and ACT Governments.

 

The news of the Follett Government's Bill reversing its public pledge headed the front page of The Canberra Times. The main but not the only breach of trust was the inclusion of post-1984 Senate-style Group Voting Tickets and the associated above-the-line boxes. Bogey Musidlak was reported saying, for the PRSA, that people would be ticking an order above the line (the party's) that bore no resemblance to the order of names below the line. He said,

 

"It looks like the first attempt in Australian electoral history to have the ballot-paper wilfully misleading the voters. If it were a commercial document, the Trade Practices Commission would be on to them in a flash."

 

The independent expert, Malcolm Mackerras, said,

 

"Hare-Clark is inconsistent with above-the-line and I would regard it a flouting of the wishes of the electorate."

 

The ACT Government is breaching trust with the voters at the plebiscite and with all future voters using a Robson Rotation ballot-paper. Robson Rotation was a feature specified at the plebiscite. A court challenge might be needed. Senate ballot-papers have a fixed, stage-managed order of the names of the candidates in each Group, and voters can and normally do expect that to be the same as the order of the Group's candidates in the corresponding Group Voting Ticket. By the very nature and purpose of Robson Rotation there would be no such implicit nexus in the devious ballot-paper envisaged by the ACT Bill.

 

The Bill will be debated in February 1994, and the voting intentions, so far unrevealed, of Mr Dennis Stevenson MLA will be critical to the outcome.

 

NZ to Abandon its Electoral System of Single-Member Districts Only

 

The crudity of New Zealand's entirely single-member first-past-the-post electoral system was bad enough for 53.8% of NZ referendum voters in November to abandon it. Once again, as in the ACT plebiscite, a single-member electorate system has failed to gain popular support.

 

The replacement is MMP, a sorry contrivance, with a thin veneer of plausibility. Half the MPs will still be from single-member electorates - the rest will not be directly elected by the people. Sadly Japan also seems close to adopting MMP, instead of using preferential marking and quota counting in its existing multi-member districts.

 

The concurrent NZ General Election mocked the claims made by the single-member electorate supporters. It gave no comfortable substantial majority to one party, and 55% of the voters elected nobody - they gave their non-transferable votes to unsuccessful candidates.

 

PRSA Invited to Constitutional Centenary Foundation Forum

 

The Constitutional Centenary Foundation Inc. (QN67) was formed to consider alterations to the Australian Constitution that may appear appropriate after 100 years of existence, and is chaired by former Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen. From time to time its 61-member Council holds Forums on key questions, and invites citizens and organizations concerned with those questions to participate.

 

On 12th November 1993 a 2 hour Forum was held in Victoria's Legislative Council Chamber, which was Australia's Senate Chamber from 1901 to 1927, on the desirability of a popularly and directly elected Constitutional Convention being established by legislation to draft Constitutional Alteration Bills for consideration by Federal Parliament, and decision by the electors if Parliament passed such bills. Such a method is being considered partly because it was the remarkably successful method by which the Constitution was drafted and approved in the first place.

 

The Foundation invited the National President, Mr Geoffrey Goode, to represent the PRSA. Proceedings began with addresses by three speakers, Professor Stuart McIntyre, Professor of History at the University of Melbourne; Dr Brian Costar of Monash University's Politics Department, and Mr Paul Kelly, Editor-in-Chief of The Australian newspaper.

Dr Costar considered that an entirely directly-elected Convention, where each State was one electorate returning the same number of delegates, would be feasible, but that it would need to use a quota-preferential form of counting rather than the first-past-the-post block vote that was used in the 1890s. He further commented that he thought that it would be undesirable to use Senate-style Group Voting Tickets, and that some degree of optional marking of preferences might be favoured. He did not go into further detail, such as the use of Robson Rotation, or the provisions for filling casual vacancies.

Dr Costar remarked that some people might consider that a directly-elected Convention would not be representative enough, and that consideration may be given to creating positions for various special groups, to ensure that they were not unrepresented. Unfortunately in the subsequent discussion several speakers supported the notion that a partly pre-ordained representation was superior to one that was entirely directly and popularly elected.

The PRSA President made the observation, as a comment on the encouraging historical background view that had been put by Professor McIntyre that, of the six Australian colonies that each had ten representatives at the 1890s Constitutional Convention, it was only in the four most advanced colonies that citizens voted directly to decide their representation on the Convention. In the remaining then relatively backward colonies of Queensland and Western Australia the people's representation was decided for them by their Parliaments.

Mr Goode also mentioned to the Forum that when British ministers in London proposed altering somewhat the draft Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Bill 1900, which was presented to them by an Australian delegation there, and which was eventually endorsed by referendum in all six colonies, the delegates had a powerful argument for their insistence on there being no such alterations. They argued that not only had each colony accepted the draft Constitution by referendum, but a majority of the colonies (which contained over 80% of those eligible to vote at the referendum) had selected their delegates to the Convention that produced the draft Constitution by direct election from the electorate at large. What business was it of the UK ministers to tamper with it? The British ministers wisely saw the point and the Bill was passed essentially as submitted.

The PRSA intends to make a detailed submission to the Foundation on electoral matters relevant to a directly-elected Convention, and on electoral provisions that should be included in the Commonwealth Constitution.

 

♫ ♪ ♫ "O Canada!" ♫ ♪ ♫

 

These opening words of the Canadian National Anthem seemed appropriate on hearing the result of November's elections to Canada's House of Commons. The discrepancies between the percentages of the vote and the percentages of the Commons seats won by the parties were staggering. Suggestions that the news of the weird operation of the single-member electorate system helped persuade New Zealanders to abandon their similar system are quite credible, but one wonders whether many Canadians have been prompted to try to change their system. With luck the disadvantages of the NZ remedy might appear early enough to assist the cause of quota-preferential PR in Canada.

 

PERCENTAGES

 

 

LIB.

OTH.

BLOC

REF.

CONS.

Votes

41.6

10.3

13.9

18.1

16.1

Seats

60.3

1.0

18.3

17.6

0.7

 

 

Real Choices/New Voices

 

This is the title of a significant new book published this month in the USA. Its sub-title The Case for Proportional Representation Elections in the United States explains its clear and important message. The publisher, Columbia University Press of 562 West 113th Street New York N.Y. 10025 USA, appropriately describes the book as follows.

 

"Why does America have such an abysmal voter turnout? Associate Professor Douglas Amy believes the problem stems from a lack of power for individual votes. His book outlines his strategy for updating the American approach to democracy. Professor Amy suggests that proportional representation is a far more democratic process than the current US plurality system. If more emphasis is placed on each vote then, and only then, will US governments be run by the people, for the people.

 

Professor Amy blames the US plurality voting system for contributing to some of the nation's most serious political problems, including the two party oligopoly, issue-less campaigns, low voter turnout, and lack of minority representation. Real Choices/New Voices argues that proportional representation would create more representative legislatures, minimize wasted votes, eliminate gerrymandering, encourage issue-oriented campaigns, enhance representation of women and minorities, and ultimately increase voter turnout.

 

Why does the US cling to a plurality voting system - in which a single legislator, the one that wins the most votes, is elected in each district? Americans assume that their electoral process is the most democratic without really exploring other options. They are content to support the notion that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. In fact their electoral process is broken and it desperately needs to be fixed. Most Western democracies have proportional representation governments, in which officials are elected in large, multi-member districts according to the proportion of the vote won by their parties. It is time the American people learned that a true democratic government must benefit everyone, not just a select few."

 

Professor Amy contacted the PRSA for information while he was writing his book, and he kindly acknowledges the PRSA and its help at the front of the book.

 

The price of the 224-page book is US$35, and it is well worth it. It is to be hoped that the book will help to fuel the feebly flickering flame of proportional representation in the USA, as the apparently complacent retention of single-member electoral systems there continues to give a poor example to the rest of the English-speaking countries, which are the main users of such systems.

 

National Office-bearers for 1994-95

 

The Returning Officer for the recent elections of PRSA National Office-bearers, Mr Tom Round, has declared the candidates below elected unopposed to the following positions within the Society from 1st January 1994 to 31st December 1995:

 
National President:                Mr Bogey Musidlak
National Vice-President:        Mr Geoffrey Goode
National Secretary:                Mr John Alexander
National Treasurer:                Mr Leonard Higgs
 

Mr Goode, who succeeded the late Mr Jack Wright as National President in 1986, is pleased to see Bogey Musidlak elected, and is looking forward as the new Vice-President to working with him. Mr David Higbed, the retiring Vice-President, did not stand again.

 

Bogey was the Research Officer for the NSW Branch in the early 1980s, and has been National Research Officer since 1989. He is also the Convenor of the ACT Branch.

 

Some of the PRSA's success stories that have given him heart have been the detection, with Jack Wright, of flaws in the 1983 Bill to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act (there was confusion between exhaustion and non-transferability of votes, the election of the correct number of senators would not have been guaranteed in practice), analyses of NSW municipal PR elections that were helpful in repelling recent NSW Government attempts to dispense with PR there, and undoubtedly the successful ACT Hare-Clark plebiscite during 1991-2.

 

Bogey believes strongly that we must collect more information so we can articulate our position cogently and early in public debate and also identify clubs, societies and other organizations that might institute fairer election rules. As there have been some excesses under current procedures, progress might be made with trade union and company board election rules.

 

South Australia's Supposed "Landslide"

 

At the South Australian election on 11th December the Liberals appeared to have won just over 80% of the seats in the House of Assembly, although they won only 53% of the first preference vote. The single-member electorate system robbed them of probable office in 1989. Their margin in first preference votes over the ALP was 3.1 percentage points then (QN56). This time it gave them an exaggerated percentage of the seats, which will lead to a restive backbench and an enfeebled Opposition.

 

The table below shows how much fairer a Hare-Clark result would be in a system of seven 7-member electoral districts. The Opposition would have one or more members in each electoral district in the State and not just the 9 out of 47 now likely, yet the Liberals would still have an absolute majority of seats in the Assembly.

 

PERCENTAGES

 

ALP

AD

OTH.

LIB.

1st Preference Vote

30.2

8.9

7.8

53.1

Hare-Clark Seats

33.0

4.0

6.0

57.0

Single-Member Seats

19.1

0.0

0.0

80.9

 


Initiative for South Africa

 

The Vice-President of the PRSA's Victorian Branch, Mr Fred Ingamells, proposed sending the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, a copy of the book Representation of All Opinions (QN67). The book is a comprehensive account of Tasmania's experience using the Hare-Clark electoral system for nearly all of the 20th Century. Hare-Clark is easily Australia's longest-used electoral system.

Mr Ingamells approached the author of the book, Mr Terry Newman, the Chief Librarian of the Tasmanian Parliamentary Library, to buy a copy, but Mr Newman insisted on posting him a free copy when he heard that it was to be sent to the Archbishop.

Mr Ingamells paid express airmail postage on the book so Archbishop Tutu could examine it before his recent visit to Australia. An accompanying letter from the PRSA put the advantages of Hare-Clark over the party list system that is to be used in South Africa's parliamentary elections next year, and invited further discussion.

PRSA members must constantly take such initiatives when opportunities arise to promote Hare-Clark.

South Africa's first Lower House elections involving all its citizens will be the first to use PR for that House. Unfortunately it will be a party list form, so the voters will be restricted to determining the boundary lines between the groupings of seats on the floor of the House. They will not decide who fills the seats in each grouping.

 

Obituaries

 

On 16th October 1993 a longstanding PRSA member, and champion in Tasmania of the Hare-Clark system, Mr Ron Excell, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in Melbourne. Mr Excell was the Secretary of Tasmania's Municipal Reform Group, which campaigned for better structures and procedures in local government in Tasmania. One of that Group's policies was for the Hare-Clark electoral system to be used more widely in municipal elections.

 

Ron lived to see increasing use of Hare-Clark in Tasmanian councils - some of that was due to legislation establishing new amalgamated councils specifically requiring Hare-Clark elections, but there is no doubt he would have been appalled by, and would have actively campaigned against, the Government's recent attempt to revert to 6-member districts for Assembly elections. Mr Excell, a former Hobart City Alderman, is survived by his wife Mary and their children.

 

Mr Edward Wheeler, the newly-elected Secretary of the ACT Branch of the PRSA, whose professional editing talents were proving of great value to the Branch, also died recently, of a heart attack in his sleep. His passing similarly represents a significant loss to the Society. His colleagues all attended the memorial service held for him.

 

© 1993 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

National President: Geoffrey Goode, 18 Anita Street, BEAUMARIS 3193

 

Tel: (03) 9589 1802  info@prsa.org.au

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