Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia


        Number 73                           March 1994                  www.prsa.org.au


·         Keating Government Showdown on Senate PR Electoral System

·         Public Sector Union Electoral System: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

·         Clerk of the Senate Warns - Party Government: the Australian Disease

·         From March: Hare-Clark for Many More Tasmanian Municipalities

·         Tasmanian Board of Inquiry on Composition of Parliament

·         Senate Casual Vacancy Procedure Is Still a Cause of Party Conflict

·         List of issues of Quota Notes


Keating Government Showdown on Senate PR Electoral System


The Federal Government, unlike Tasmania's Government, which late in 1993 made an unheralded attempt to adversely modify the Hare-Clark system, has since last year been suggesting moves to abolish the Senate's proportional representation electoral system. Annoyed by the Australian Democrats, and their proposals to use powers under Section 49 of the Constitution, it has spoken of moves to change the Senate voting rules.

Senator Evans said the "rationale would be to ensure that the Senate reflects the kind of majority view as to who should be governing the country that prevails in the House of Representatives."

He said the present Senate was unlikely to pass legislation changing the Senate electoral system, so the most likely method for the change would be to use the legislation to trigger a double dissolution election. If the Government won the election, the legislation with which it was triggered would be considered by a joint sitting of Parliament, at which the Government was likely to have the numbers to pass it.

Mr Keating said, "Like the republic, it is an issue worthy of mature, sensible debate."


Ted Mack, North Sydney Independent MHR, (Question Time, 3 March) challenged the PM

"... an attempt to achieve executive dominance by electoral manipulation ... his apparent desire to crush minority views is seen as undemocratic ..."


Mr Keating replied

"... the essential, robust element of our democracy is the representative nature of the Australian ballot. The Senate is not a representative ballot; it is a proportional ballot."


He added,

"But hiding behind the proportional representation system, picking up 3 or 4 per cent of the vote, or 2 per cent of the vote, and hoping to pick up part of someone else's quota and then parading as a paragon of democratic virtue is the sort of nonsense which, frankly, the rest of us should not have to stomach."


One Opposition MP, Mr Downer, appeared tempted to support abolishing PR but most, including the Nationals, seem wary of an ALP power grab. The last Liberal leader wanting to abolish PR for the Senate was the late Sir Billy Snedden, but his view lacked Party support.

Like the republic debate, the details of changes proposed have not been specified, although Mr Kim Beazley said that the Prime Minister was talking about a preferential system such as is used for the House of Representatives. The Australian (4, 5 March) confused matters by also saying he confirmed the idea of changing to a system of direct (sic), first past the post election for senators. Do Mr Beazley's remarks save us from reverting to a first-past-the-post folly, like the 1902-19 multiple version?

Would the ALP mark its longest single stretch in power by reverting to the multiple majority-preferential system that Chifley, with Menzies' approval, replaced with PR? Mr John Howard might have correctly recognized that the Government might, if any plans exist, be toying with single or two-member electorates for the Senate, when he said, "If those opposite have their way, there will no longer be senators from NSW, Victoria, or WA. There will be senators from the Riverina, western Sydney, the North Shore, the great south-west and North Queensland."

In that case the Senate would become like most of our State Upper Houses before the ALP reformed them in the 1970s - either a tame mirror of the Lower House or its implacable enemy, but never anything in between.

In its 1993 Submission to the Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, drafted by Bogey Musidlak, now PRSA National President, the PRSA detailed the remedy for concerns about parties with few first preference votes gaining a senator. Both major parties ignore Robson Rotation, which, in most elections, would remove an unnecessary but self-inflicted handicap on the major parties. Instead candidates' names in each group on the ballot-paper appear in a fixed order decided by mutual choice of the candidates in that group.

Both major parties in Tasmania have supported Robson Rotation for over a decade. Party Machine operators' insistent manipulative opposition to it for Senate elections lets some minor party candidates be elected instead of major party candidates as the latter handicap themselves. In Tasmania's Assembly elections first preference votes for most major party candidates likely to be elected are normally spread among those candidates. The ACT's Labor Government flirted with above-the-line boxes to nullify Robson Rotation, but have backed away.

With the fixed order down the ballot-paper in Senate elections, the first preference votes of each major party are concentrated almost entirely on the leading candidate. Their other candidates gain that candidate’s surpluses in due course, but their last viable candidate often needlessly falls below minor party candidates. The focussing on major party surpluses has delayed exclusions, and allowed minor hopefuls to accumulate votes from those without hope. The latest example, detailed in the submission, is Senator Dee Margetts (WA Greens). Progress totals soon before she was declared elected were:

ALP 94687  LIB 80554  WA GREEN 58398  AD 44984

Nearly 90% of the excluded AD's votes then went to Ms Margetts, bringing her up to 98,299. The rest were shared reasonably evenly. Therefore the fourth Liberal was next excluded. After 85% of his votes were transferred to Ms Margetts, she was elected. Tasmanian Assembly elections show that larger parties do far better by spreading their first preference votes among their candidates, as Robson Rotation helps achieve. A rigid party order, given wholesale effect by Senate style Group Voting Tickets, does the opposite. The Machines dread publicity on this!



Public Sector Union Electoral System: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing


The Federal Court declared a poll last year to fill four positions on the Victorian Branch Executive of the Public Sector Union void and ordered a new poll, which again was conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission. Last month the new poll was held with the same five candidates as before. The court had found that over a thousand voters had not been sent postal ballots by the existing management of the Union which, after recent amalgamations, is now one of Australia's largest.

With the involvement of the Federal Court of Australia, and the Australian Electoral Commission, one would think that the will of the electors would be faithfully implemented, at least in the new poll.

The legislation governing union ballots, which requires the Electoral Commission to conduct the poll, unfortunately like much such legislation, does not carefully control the electoral system to be used, but allows that to be decided by the governing body of the organization, tempting it to be quite creative.

The Public Sector Union ballot-papers issued by the Commission carry the deceptively simple directions:

"You must vote for at least FOUR candidates by placing the numbers 1 to 4 in the squares opposite the names of the candidates for whom you wish to give your primary votes."

Voters used to voting in public elections in Australia would realize that those directions require them to mark at least the numbers 1 to 4 on the ballot-paper. Having marked the ballot-paper as they would for the system of preferential voting that has been well established in Federal, State and Municipal elections in Australia since the 1920s, and noting that the poll is conducted by the Commission, voters could reasonably expect the results to be determined in a customary Australian manner.

Australian practice is for each ballot-paper to have a unique first preference vote, which is a substantive vote ranking ahead of the other preferences, which are merely contingent or alternative votes that only come into play if the required majority or quota, as the case may be, is not obtained by the candidate receiving the relevant first preference votes. But the Public Sector Union is different.

Part (a)(i) of Public Sector Union Rule 171 states,

"The preference votes to the number of vacancies to be filled shall be termed primary votes, and shall have equal value in the first count and be credited to the candidate for whom they are cast, whether marked 1, 2, 3, etc., according to the number of vacancies;".


Part (b) states,

"The primary votes shall first be counted and a list shall be prepared of the candidates in order according to the primary votes cast for them. The candidate who is lowest on the list thus compiled shall be excluded from the count."


Apologists for the Public Sector Union system may rely on the perhaps overlooked word primary in the directions to claim that voters ought to understand the initially non-preferential nature of an ostensibly preferential system. The pigs in George Orwell's Animal Farm, proud of such a wolf in sheep's clothing, might have declared,

"In Australia all preferences are more equal than others, but in the Public Sector Union the crucial preferences are all equal."


This multiple first-past-the-post variant, surreptitiously presented as a preferential system, can in the above poll easily prevent a candidate that gains up to 79% of the first preference vote from being elected*, as a possible outcome with 100 ballot-papers completed shows below:



1st. Pref.

2nd. Pref.

3rd. Pref.

4th. Pref.













































Any candidate that gains more than 50% of the first preference vote should have a case before a court for an order for either a new poll under fair and just rules, or at the very least, an order to change to a fair electoral system for future polls. It would set a useful precedent.


Clerk of the Senate Warns - Party Government: the Australian Disease


The Clerk of the Senate, Mr Harry Evans, has written a stimulating article Party Government: the Australian Disease and Australian Cures in Legislative Studies, the biannual newsletter of the Australasian Study of Parliament Group, Vol. 7 No. 2 Autumn 1993.

He writes,

"Although it is now an established truth that the party system reduces the performance of parliament, it is still not fully realized that modern political parties are a radical negation of parliament as an institution, that they are organizations designed to prevent parliamentary government from working."


Mr Evans states that the power and harmful effects of party rigidity and discipline are worse in Australia than in any other country.

In arguing that the party system severely affects Parliament's quality and integrity, he says,

"In relation to integrity, it may be regarded as no accident that the country with the most rigid party system also has the most conspicuous monuments to failures of integrity in the shape of endless royal commissions and other non-parliamentary inquiries into political malfeasance."


He says,

"We are familiar with the historical phenomena of communists and fascists to whom there were no objective truths or moral principles, only proletarian truths and morality and bourgeois truths and morality, Aryan truths and morality and Jewish truths and morality. Something like this mode of thought is now in operation here, and is at the base of many of the problems which have occurred. The true and the good is that which helps the party, and whatever helps the party is true and good, until a royal commission imposes something else."


He praises Robson Rotation, but differs from the PRSA in saying that

"Tasmania provides the only ready example of the effect of PR on a lower house in a jurisdiction with a British-type party system, particularly of the rigid Australian variety. As an example it is not encouraging to the supporters of PR, because there have been long periods of one-party government, which belies the supposed effect of PR."


The PRSA is most encouraged by Tasmania's PR - more than by any other. Tasmanians have preferred an outcome of one-party government in many elections, as recently as 1992. Hare-Clark is a sound means of deciding whether to have one-party government or not. Mainland Australians lack that means, but Tasmanians are very well aware of it indeed.

Mr Evans concludes,

"This small but significant parliamentary example indicates that PR, if adopted for lower houses, may indeed enhance the performance of legislative functions and overcome some of the restricting effects of the party system on parliament as a legislature and as a controller of the executive government."



From March: Hare-Clark for Many More Tasmanian Municipalities


A new Local Government Act in Tasmania has produced impressive and continuing reforms that begin at the March 1994 council elections. There is a spill in most councils to ensure that all begin the new arrangements of biennial polls to elect half the councillors, each eventually for a four-year term. Nearly all councils have been restructured so that they are not subdivided into wards, resulting in a noticeable increase in the number of candidates and a big decrease in uncontested polls. Elections will be conducted using the Hare-Clark system.

Casual vacancies will be filled, until the next periodic election, by countback of the ballot-papers from the previous election. The order of names on ballot-papers will be by the double randomization method originally suggested for ordering Senate columns from left to right by PRSA member Alison Harcourt. Robson Rotation will not be used owing to the cost in the relatively small polls involved. It might be considered later if use of tickets, which are not usual in Tasmania, became an issue.

Most councils have chosen to have the State Electoral Office conduct their polls. An important experiment has been the adoption of universal postal voting, with postal ballots being sent to every enrolled elector. Some polling booths will still available, but reduced costs and a higher percentage vote are both hoped for.

VictoVictoria's Liberals are also busily restructuring Local Government but, unlike Tasmania, where voters' powers are being enhanced, no moves seem to be underway to improve voters' powers. Victoria's previous Coalition-dominated Legislative Council blocked the former ALP Government's Bill for PR in Local Government.



Tasmanian Board of Inquiry on Composition of Parliament


The Tasmanian Government has appointed a four-member Board of Inquiry, headed by the Chairman of the Australian Electoral Commission, Mr Trevor Morling, to report on possible new formats for Tasmania's Parliament, following the Legislative Council's resolve to block Government plans for 6-member Assembly electorates, pending such an inquiry.

The Inquiry has been asked to consider the Government's original plan, and other options such as two houses sitting and debating together but voting separately, much like Anglican synods. It is to report by 30th September. Implementation of change might be proposed by a referendum in 1996, to take effect in 2000 A.D.



Senate Casual Vacancy Procedure Is Still a Cause of Party Conflict


The Liberals' problems in replacing Senator Brian Archer seem just as agonizing as was the business of replacing ALP Senator Michael Tate (QN71). The Australian (14/2) reported that the former Tasmanian Premier, Robin Gray, had called for an end to Liberal Party feuding over the matter. Mr Eric Abetz, a Hobart-based barrister and Liberal State president, who won the Party's internal election for the nomination to replace the Burnie-based Senator Archer, thus depriving the north-west of Tasmania of any Liberal senators, had earlier been called a New Right extremist by Mr Gray.


Mr Gray did not change from his 1987 view that parties should give Parliament a choice of nominations to fill a vacancy. As Premier, he rejected Mr John Devereux's nomination to replace ALP Senator Don Grimes.


A life member of the Young Liberals, Mr Michael Walsh, a lawyer from Ulverstone in north-western Tasmania, accepted nomination against Mr Abetz, by Mr Reg Hope, MLC for Meander, near Devonport, at the Joint Sitting of the Tasmanian Parliament on 22nd February. However, the Liberal Party's State Director told the Premier and Mr Walsh beforehand that Mr Walsh was, under Rule 15A of the Liberal Party, automatically expelled from the Party by announcing his acceptance of the nomination.


That Rule 15A appears to have no other purpose than to forestall and infringe upon the right of the Tasmanian Parliament, supposedly secured under Section 15 of the Commonwealth Constitution, to choose, as the replacement senator, a member of the same party that the vacating member belonged to. There is no more recently altered section of the Constitution than Section 15, which is by far the longest section, and it even provides for the case where there may not have been any prior announcement of Mr Walsh's nomination. If in that case the Joint Sitting had elected him, the party would, before he took his seat in the Senate, be allowed to repudiate his nomination by expelling him from the Party, and the Parliament would be subjected to the farce of choosing again. The farcical nature of Section 15 is a clear instance of State parliaments being rendered Gilbertian.


The Premier ignored the Party Machine's claim that Mr Walsh was no longer a Party Member and agreed to both Liberals being nominated. The Joint Sitting voted 46 to 7 for Mr Abetz. The Australian (23/2) reported that it was believed that the 7 votes for Mr Walsh came from Independent MLCs, and that the Premier ordered a show-and-tell vote by Liberal MPs in the secret ballot to make sure all voted for Mr Abetz. Was that contempt of Parliament's decision for a secret ballot? This Senate casual vacancy quarrel has accelerated two other issues in Tasmania - a move by certain Liberal parliamentarians to depose Mr Ray Groom as Premier and instate one of them in his place, and encouragement for the Nationals to re-establish, as rivals for the Liberals. That further destabilization of a Premier that achieved office as an immediate result of a general election might never have occurred if Senate casual vacancies were handled directly and democratically in the same way as casual vacancies are filled in the House of Assembly.


Soon it was time for ALP wrangling. Ms Franca Arena MLC of NSW, who had failed in her bid for preselection for Senator Sibraa's ALP Senate casual vacancy, savagely attacked the ALP preselection process as a perversion of mateship that favoured party officials or their wives. The replacement, Gosford solicitor Ms Belinda Neal, 31, wife of ALP NSW general secretary Mr John Della Bosca, won the crucial endorsement of a group of right-wing union leaders and party officers.


The other front runner of the six women contesting the preselection was quoted as saying,


"The decision must be made in a way that is open to scrutiny, that is seen to be fair and democratic and must be made on merit."


Was she suggesting it wasn't being done that way?


Ms Arena said that five of the six NSW ALP senators - including Senator Graham Richardson - were party officials before being preselected. Her remark appeared on 19th February, the same day P.P. McGuinness wrote in The Australian,


"What the Prime Minister was really saying was the Labor senators are unrepresentative swill. Well, given the number of party apparatchiks among their ranks, I could not disagree with him. Moreover, the Senate is elected by proportional representation (a measure introduced by a truly great Labor prime minister, Ben Chifley), which ensures that small parties and even Independents can obtain representation. In this sense, the Senate is more, not less, representative of the electorate than the House of Representatives ..."


The present indirectly elected senators, now 6.6% of the Senate, are:







        J. Vallentine

        C. Chamarette




        M. Tate

        K. Denman




        B. Archer

        E. Abetz




        K. Sibraa

        B. Neal




        B. Bishop

        R. Woods




Why is there no law for notice of these to appear in newspapers?



© 1994 Proportional Representation Society of Australia


National President: Bogey Musidlak, 14 Strzelecki Cr, NARRABUNDAH 2604

Tel: (02) 6295 8137  info@prsa.org.au

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