Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia
Number 72 December 1993 www.prsa.org.au
sudden attempt by Tasmania's
Liberal Party Government,
without significant prior
publicity or public inquiry,
to adversely alter Tasmania's
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
PRSA President made the
observation, as a comment on the
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
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
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.
opening words of the Canadian
National Anthem seemed
appropriate on hearing the
result of November's elections
is the title of a significant
new book published this month
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.
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.
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.