Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia
Number 73 March 1994 www.prsa.org.au
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.
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
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
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."
"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
Would the ALP mark its longest single
stretch in power by reverting to the multiple
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,
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
PRSA detailed the remedy for concerns about
parties with few first preference votes
gaining a senator. Both major parties ignore
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.
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!
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
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
Voters used to voting in public
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,
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:
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.
"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
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."
"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
The PRSA is most encouraged by
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."
A new Local
Government Act in
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
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.
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.
The Liberals' problems in replacing
Senator Brian Archer seem just as agonizing
as was the business of replacing ALP Senator
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.
life member of the Young Liberals, Mr
Michael Walsh, a lawyer from Ulverstone in
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.
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
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:
Proportional Representation Society of
National President: Bogey Musidlak, 14 Strzelecki Cr, NARRABUNDAH 2604
Tel: (02) 6295 8137 firstname.lastname@example.org
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