QUOTA    NOTES

 

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

Number 75                September 1994               www.prsa.org.au

 

         Do Hare-Clark Advocates Want Citizen Initiated Referendums?

         Submission to the Constitutional Centenary Foundation

         PRSA Approach to the Prime Minister's Civics Expert Group

         Mackerras Warns New Zealand its MMP will be Totally Discredited

         SA Branch Submission to SA Joint Committee: Women in Parliament

         Victorian Branch Deputation Meets the State's Leader of the Opposition

         Choices Made: Quota-preferential PR versus Other Systems

         "How Do Baptists Vote?"

         Back issues of Quota Notes

 

Do Hare-Clark Advocates Want Citizen Initiated Referendums?

 

The media were greatly interested in a one-day seminar on citizen initiated referendums held in the packed Main Committee Room of Parliament House, Canberra, on 28th July. They also highlighted National Press Club speeches of Cheryl Kernot, Ted Mack and Peter Reith supporting direct democracy as an adjunct to good government.

The PRSA National President, Bogey Musidlak, accepted Peter Reith's invitation to attend, writing, "In our advocacy of the widespread use of the Hare-Clark system of proportional representation in public, organisational and community group elections, we are certainly keen to see that individuals feel a sense of having a real influence on matters of concern to them."

Of course, individual members' views will range from those seeing all aspects of the veto or initiative as enhancements of democracy, to those apprehensive about various possible impacts upon the operation of our representative system of democracy, or rejecting the notion outright.

Professor Geoffrey Walker gave a thorough and energetic overview of voters' veto and initiative developments around the world: for instance, the Ryan Government in Queensland came close to introducing it when it was still one of the fundamental planks in ALP policy. Writers Bryce Courtenay, Tom Keneally and Morris West spoke passionately in favour, focusing on the balance of power between the individual and the State. John Hyde spoke of his conversion to the cause after reading Walker's book, and stressed the importance of direct democracy in firming governments' resolve not to give in to demands of lobby groups.

One session reviewed recent moves at State, Territory and local government level. These included: the practical experience of North Sydney and Burnie Councils; how, before State Liberal MPs reversed their stand, former MHA Neil Robson came within one vote of having Tasmania's Assembly accept voters' veto; and the efforts of former Queensland National Party Premier, Russell Cooper, and A.C.T. Liberal Opposition Leader, Kate Carnell, to introduce CIR Bills into their legislatures.

 

Submission to the Constitutional Centenary Foundation

 

After the Constitutional Centenary Foundation's Forum in November last year (QN72), the Vice-Chairperson, Professor Cheryl Saunders, invited the PRSA to make a submission giving its views on the electoral system that should be used if a popularly and directly elected Constitutional Convention were to be promoted.

A submission, a copy of which can be obtained by faxing a request to PRSA (See Page 4), was discussed with Professor Saunders when the National Vice-President and two Victorian Branch members met her at the University of Melbourne this month. She said the PRSA's advice would be of use in her task of preparing a submission to the CCF Board on a proposed Convention, which would be a modern and improved version of the pre-Federation Convention that so successfully achieved adoption of the present Constitution. Needless to say, details the PRSA suggested included the use of Hare-Clark with the Robson Rotation, and filling of casual vacancies by countback.

 

PRSA Approach to the Prime Minister's Civics Expert Group

 

The PRSA National President recently made a submission to the Civics Expert Group set up by the Prime Minister to "provide the Government with a plan for a program of public education and information on Australian government, citizenship and the constitution."

 

The Group, chaired by Professor Stuart Macintyre, Professor of History at the University of Melbourne, is to report by 30th November 1994. The Group's Terms of Reference state,

"... The goal of the Government's public education program is to ensure that Australians have sufficient information about our system of Government to participate fully in decision-making processes. ..."

 

The PRSA asked to assist in processes to enlighten citizens on how Australians participate electorally. Tasmania's Hare-Clark is our most enduring electoral system, and the A.C.T.'s our newest - by popular choice.
 

Mackerras Warns New Zealand its MMP will be Totally Discredited

 

In two major articles in the New Zealand daily newspaper The Dominion, each spread across the page on consecutive issues (10-11th August), the Australian electoral analyst Malcolm Mackerras predicted that the newly introduced Mixed Member Proportional electoral system would cause havoc in New Zealand. He forecast that it would be totally discredited by 2000 A.D.

In Mr Mackerras's first article, headed Why MMP will destroy the Labour Party, he explained that he had lived in New Zealand for most of June to study MMP's development since his 1993 visit and the outlook for it. He happily foresaw the end of MMP early next century via a referendum, but found it quite sad to watch the destruction of one of New Zealand's two great political parties at the hands of a ratbag scheme like MMP.

Mr Mackerras wrote,

"Labour will be the victim of MMP because the first MMP election will see it displaced as NZ's second party. Historically, once a party loses its place among the top two it is finished."

 

His article continued,

"Labour will be displaced by the Alliance for reasons which are quite unfair. While I was in New Zealand, an opinion poll, published on July 8, showed that, when asked which local candidate they would vote for, the replies were: National 35%, Labour 30%, Alliance 23%, NZ First 10%, and Other 2%. Now suppose that the election were under STV (quota-preferential PR), the seats would be distributed between the parties according to the above percentages. That would be a fair result because STV is a sensible, comprehensible system. Labour would have remained one of New Zealand's two major parties under STV."

 

The paragraphs just after this were as follows.

"However the same poll revealed that the party list vote was 29% for the Alliance and 24% for Labour. That is another way of saying that many people think they are splitting their votes. The fact is, those so-called "splitters" do not understand the system. Under MMP there is a pretence of two votes when really there is only one, namely the party list vote. Only it is worth casting.

The point about MMP is that, while pretending to provide for effective local representation, it visits the cruellest form of punishment upon any party capable of fielding a good team of local candidates.

Their victories in constituency seats are lost by the allocation of list seats. All the votes won in the constituencies are worthless. On the other hand, a party which has not been able to win one constituency seat because of the poor calibre of its candidates would still get 20% of all seats as long as it got 20% of list votes. Its extremely poor performance in the constituencies would count for nothing against it, while the good performing party, which was taking notice of local desires, would be penalized by not getting a list seats "top-up". ...

Imagine the situation under the ill-researched MMP scheme. At a general election a party which wins a constituency will know that, by such a win, it cheats itself of a list seat. A party which wins a list seat can replace a vacancy by an appointment. By contrast a party which wins a constituency is punished by the need to defend that seat at a fresh popular election in that district."

In his second article entitled, MMP: the big letdown, Mr Mackerras included the following paragraphs.

"When Labour cries after polling day, We wuz robbed, there is no doubt in my mind what it will blame. It will be the sloppiness of the so-called research of the report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System. ...

Yet herein lies the hope for electoral reform. The natural hostility of National to MMP will combine with Labour's burning sense of having been cheated. That will bring about a change in public perception. The sooner that change occurs the better. ...

Does one move quickly to scrap it? Regrettably the answer must lie in the negative. The Electoral Act 1993 provides that an inquiry by Parliament must begin in April 2000. Until that date arrives, MMP is on contract between the people and the politicians of New Zealand. The people having voted for it have every right to expect that it will not even be amended till the expiry of the contract six years hence.

The Electoral Act 1993 mentions a possible further referendum. My best guess is that it will take place in 2002. However, while I am in no doubt that there will be a further referendum I can only guess at its likely year and the system which the people will install as the permanent one. Nor do I know whether electoral reform will come in time to rescue the Labour Party, so gravely weakened by the unfair MMP.

In the present climate of opinion there is logic to suppose that the Single Transferable Vote (STV) will be the permanent system. That would be the case if the idea of proportional representation is still popular at the turn of the century."

The article went on to suggest that the Supplementary Member system recently adopted by Italy and Japan might become the permanent NZ system. Quota Notes has received a letter, critical of Mr Mackerras's article and the PRSA's views on MMP, from a member of NZ's Electoral Reform Coalition, who seeks its publication. He has been advised it will be if he limits it to 300 words.

 

SA Branch Submission to SA Joint Committee: Women in Parliament

 

In July 1994 the PRSA's South Australian Branch made an important submission to SA's Joint Committee on Women in Parliament. An edited version follows.

"The PRSA congratulates SA's Parliament for creating the Committee to investigate why women are poorly represented in the Parliament, particularly in the Centenary Year of Women's Suffrage in South Australia. In 1894, SA women won the right to vote, and to be elected to SA's Parliament. It is disappointing that so few women have been elected over the past 100 years.

Recently the Commonwealth Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters began an inquiry with almost identical formal terms of reference, but it ignored the issue, stating that an investigation like SA's was not part of its function! Instead it recommended that it monitor developments in the area of the participation by women in the electoral process and report on this matter from time to time. Only two of its 12 members were women - which might have affected its decision. The PRSA hopes for a better result from SA's Committee.

The PRSA's SA Branch advocates quota-preferential proportional representation for all elections where several positions can be filled as a group. It calls for an SA House of Assembly consisting of multi-member districts, either seven 7-member or nine 5-member districts. As SA's Constitution requires an equal number of MHAs for each district, the present total of 47 MHAs is not possible. South Australia should continue to fill, by the whole State as one district, concurrently with every Assembly election, half of the Legislative Council seats.

Women, Elections and Parliament (Report from the Federal Committee, May 1994) is disappointing, but it does contain much useful information. The table below, using data from Page 54, compares Houses elected with a single vacancy in each district and Houses elected by PR, which that Report failed to do. PR Houses tend to have more than double the fraction of women elected.

Recommendation: Increase the number of women elected to State Parliament by having a House of Assembly with multi-member districts electing members by PR. 

The evidence shows that the number of women MHAs should at least double. Artificially increasing their number, as former MHR Jim Carlton proposed, with reserved seats or quotas, will become counter-productive. Frustration often advances such proposals, but men and women ought to be elected on their merits.

Parties have seemed reluctant to promote women - except for unsafe single-member electorates, and unwinnable positions in columns on PR ballot-papers lacking the Robson Rotation. It is important to use PR with Robson Rotation, so that within columns on a ballot-paper all candidates have equally favourable positions, as that will see seats won more on merit and less on party favours.

The Robson Rotation, specified in Section 106 and Schedule 2 of Tasmania's Electoral Act 1985, has been used in all Tasmanian elections, for each House, since a 1979 Private Member's Bill was passed unanimously. It ensures fairness for all candidates listed in a column on a ballot-paper by a prescribed varying of the order of names. Prescribed places within a column order are designated as favoured positions. The name of each candidate listed in the column appears in the favoured positions on the same number of ballot papers. The ballot-papers are systematically collated for issue at each polling place, so candidates can expect to benefit equally from the donkey vote and purely party votes.

Recommendation: Use the Robson Rotation to order candidates within each party column on the ballot-paper.

If SA adopted those recommendations, as many women as the voters choose could be elected. They would still have to be pre-selected, but as political parties realize the value of women candidates in obtaining support, and female MPs show by their performances that they have as much chance as male MPs of displaying merit (they have usually had to fight harder for pre-selection), more women will probably be pre-selected. 

The PRSA endorses Catherine Helen Spence's pioneering views. She supported women's suffrage but insisted that, if women's votes were ever to be assured of being effective, quota-preferential proportional representation was essential. We, 100 years later, echo her and press for PR to be used for both Houses of Parliament.

Fraction of Women in Australian Parliaments: 1994

 

 

Houses of MPs elected with a single vacancy in each district

Houses of MPs elected by proportional representation

C'wealth

15/147

10.2%

17/76

22.4%

NSW

10/99

10.1%

15/42

35.7%

VIC

10/88

11.4%

7/44

15.9%

QLD

13/89

14.6%

-

-

WA

10/57

17.5%

4/34

11.8%

SA

7/47

14.9%

7/22

31.8%

TAS

1/19

5.3%

8/35

22.9%

ACT

-

-

6/17

35.3%

NT

2/25

8.0%

-

-

TOTAL

75/615

12.2%

57/226

25.2%

 

 

Victorian Branch Deputation Meets the State's Leader of the Opposition

 

The President of the PRSA's Victorian Branch, Dr Lee Naish, and two other office-bearers met the Leader of the Opposition in the Victorian Parliament, Mr John Brumby MLA, in August to discuss the State ALP's position and outlook on the issue of introducing proportional representation for certain elections in Victoria.

The Society told Mr Brumby that it had strongly supported the major principle, which was quota-preferential proportional representation, of the Cain Government's Constitution (Proportional Representation) Bill 1988 and the Local Government Amendment Bill 1990. Nevertheless it was stressed to him that the Society also opposed the absence of significant Hare-Clark features in both bills. The Society had urged the Coalition to amend the 1988 Bill, which had provided for PR for the Legislative Council, so that it would specify Robson Rotation, and the filling of casual vacancies by countback, rather than the Senate-style ballot-paper and the filling of casual vacancies by party nomination proposed. Both Bills had been passed by the ALP-dominated Legislative Assembly, but were rejected by the Coalition-dominated Legislative Council.

 

Choices Made: Quota-preferential PR versus Other Systems

 

Dr Lee Naish, PRSA Victorian Branch President, is a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Melbourne, and in his professional capacity he is a member of the Association for Logic Programming, a London-based international society, mostly of academics in the field of computing. Lee was surprised that the ballot-paper he received for elections to their Executive Committee involved counting by a relative majority (first-past-the-post) block vote procedure. The ballot-papers indicated that they were counted by the electoral services company that our fellow society, the Electoral Reform Society of Great Britain and Ireland, has set up.

Lee suggested to the Association that they should replace their relative majority procedure with a quota-preferential proportional representation system and was pleasantly surprised when they adopted his suggestion, which included stating the name of the counting system on the ballot-paper. They also included with each ballot-paper a brochure explaining the PR system.

The Electoral Reform Society's electoral services company counts ballots under any system, but it is interesting that this successful electoral reform initiative came from the actions of PRSA's Victorian Branch President rather than somebody in the British Isles.

The PRSA has learnt that the Australian Psychological Society Ltd, which previously used PR to elect its governing body, has changed so that it now elects each member for a specific portfolio. It now has a separate majority-preferential election for each single vacancy.

Single-member districts are still misleading Canada. The secessionist Parti Quebecois, which gained 44.8% of the vote at recent provincial elections, won 77 seats in the Quebec legislature, more than an absolute majority. The anti-secessionist Liberals gained 44.2% of the vote, but won only 47 seats. A third party, which is anti-secessionist but wants more powers for Quebec, gained 6.5% of the popular vote, yet won only 1 seat.

In a familiar echo of the crucial 1948 election where South Africa's National Party power gained power with a minority vote (QN74), Quebec finds that the 50.7% of voters for parties wishing Quebec to stay within Canada gain only 38.4% of the seats, leaving the remaining 61.6% in the hands of a single firmly secessionist party.

 

"How Do Baptists Vote?"

 

This was the title of the leading article in the December 1994 issue of the Newsletter of the Baptist Social Justice Group of Victoria. The article had been written on the initiative of Mr Geoff Forster, a member of the PRSA's Victorian Branch, who is the Convenor of that Group.

The article mentioned Geoff's raising the subject of PR with a UK Baptist that gave the annual social justice lecture last year. Geoff belatedly realized that the lukewarm response he received may well have been due to the dominating European experience with party list systems and their obvious faults.

His article reviewed recent developments in direct PR in Australia, including the success of the A.C.T.'s plebiscite, and its Government's thwarted attempts to implement an inherently inconsistent and distorted version of the sound Hare-Clark system the voters chose at the 1992 plebiscite.

 

1994 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

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

 

National Secretary: Robert Forster (following John Alexander's resignation) 38 French Street HACKETT ACT 2602

 

Tel: (02) 6295 8137      (06) 9249 8546      info@prsa.org.au

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