Eight days earlier, Liberal MLA Mr Gary Humphries had introduced the Proportional Representation (Hare-Clark) Entrenchment Bill 1994. It sought to create a bulwark against a simple majority of MLAs ending the ACT's quota-preferential voting and counting, removing countback for the filling of casual vacancies, or tampering with Robson Rotation. It also pre-empted manipulation of the size of electoral districts by parties to suit their differential patterns of support, by requiring that each district have an odd number of members - 5 or more.
ACT voters endorsed the Hare-Clark option by a resounding 2-1 majority at the February 1992 plebiscite, but that result was in no strict sense binding. Indeed, last December the Follett ALP Government tried to undermine the system by proposing party boxes and other deceitful plans aimed at replacing voter influence with control for those prominent within party machines. Massive public uproar, and the threat by two independent MLAs to move a no-confidence motion in the Chief Minister, who introduced that legislation, had her make a hasty backdown just before Christmas 1993.
Under the Commonwealth ACT Self-Government Act a referendum or special Assembly majority can be prescribed as conditions of approval before further changes can take effect, but the Act to be subject to those conditions must itself meet them before it can take effect. The importance of entrenching key Hare-Clark principles was recognized early, but the introduction of legislation to achieve it only became possible in practice after machinery provisions for the conduct of referendums had been established. Not surprisingly, this matter has not been a high priority of the Follett Government.
A press release by the Chief Minister said her Government would move two amendments to Mr Humphries' Bill, to entrench compulsory voting and to require a referendum for any change in the size of the Assembly, should the Commonwealth transfer power for that. Ms Follett said, The new system allows for local representation and will ensure close contact with the community, which heartened Hare-Clark supporters.
In a spirit of compromise, both Government amendments were carried, and Mr Humphries could refine key principles, set out in Section 4 of the Act shown on Page 4. The MLAs supporting the Bill were not entrenching the system that elected them, but were protecting ACT voters, 65% of whom had voted for Hare-Clark in 1992. The only dissentient, Mr Dennis Stevenson of the Abolish Self-Government Coalition, had long protested at the ACT as a single electoral district not having been a 1992 plebiscite option. Having the previous day said he would not stand again, he indicated that the subject matter did not trouble him, but he thought the referendum should be initiated by citizens as opposed to politicians.
The ACT should soon be ahead of Tasmania in that Hare-Clark could be entrenched. Also the ACT law uses the names Hare-Clark and Robson Rotation, which gives them some helpful legal status. To take effect, the Act must be approved by a majority of ACT electors on 18th February 1995, that is, people enrolled rather than just those casting a formal vote. If it is approved, changes inconsistent with the key principles can only occur after a further referendum, or by a _ majority of the Assembly.
The Society's ACT Branch again aims to play an active role in the referendum campaign, and will welcome donations of money or offers of assistance in distributing materials. These can be sent to the PRSA National Secretary 38 French Street HACKETT ACT 2602.
The AEC Report grumbled about the high level of exhausted ballots, but that was effectively answered by the PRSA by its recommendation that the procedures for distribution of surpluses be altered so that:
It seems that Malcolm Mackerras hasn't learnt from his previous attacks on MMP. His predictions on the binding referendum were wrong. Why does Mr Mackerras continue his attacks? Is it because of a fear that MMP may be better than STV? Is it that he is closed minded about any alternative proportional voting system?
In articles in the Dominion Newspaper, he makes further predictions about the end of MMP. I would have thought that he would have steered clear of predictions! Is he attempting to ferment negative views toward MMP? Malcolm queries the number of people who understand MMP. It depends what is meant be many but most people realize the party vote determines the overall percentage a party achieves in Parliament. The split vote, to vote both for a party of choice and a local candidate, is a tremendous advantage.
Mackerras claims MMP is so stupid and so deceitful, but fails to show how. He pushes emotive buttons and includes titles such as ratbag scheme. He slates the Royal Commission as the Five Guilty People. All they are guilty of is an excellent analysis of electoral system options and a recommendation to implement MMP over STV as the preferred system. The people did the actual choosing in voting in two electoral referenda. STV came a distant second to MMP.
Mr Mackerras argues about local representation. Good candidates get voted in locally - no problem! But modern politics is about national parties who the people elect to run the country - not just a piece of country!
Mackerras suggests STV would give representation according to voter support. Under MMP, party representation is guaranteed if a party reaches the 5% threshold or obtains an electorate seat. So MMP doesn't leave representation to chance like STV which can be influenced by voter distribution.
The Five Guilty People are the Royal Commission. Their work, Towards A Better Democracy, provides an educational tool for those wishing to become informed about electoral systems.
Mackerras's slurs on the Royal Commission and on MMP include such descriptions as: a ratbag electoral system - deceitful, fraudulent, rotten, stupid, vicious, and unfair. It is disappointing that the PRSA took seriously this writer's abusive, extravagant and flawed claims.MMP was proposed by an independent panel after a prolonged, public inquiry. It was adopted by organizations supporting electoral reform throughout New Zealand, including the Electoral Reform Coalition. Despite a very well-financed (and violently abusive campaign against MMP by the so-called Campaign for Better Government, the public voted clearly in favour of this fair, proportional voting system. Your Society should have rejoiced in our success instead of printing vicious and inaccurate attacks on MMP.
Mackerras predicted that Labour will be the victim of MMP because it will be displaced by the Alliance for reasons which are quite unfair. The prediction is highly speculative and the assertion of unfairness is unfounded. Please note that:
While the New Zealand Royal Commission did a thorough job on the iniquities of first-past-the-post voting (and then recommended its partial retention!), it viewed the single transferable vote very much through a party- machine rather than voter filter. First it thought of STV only in party box terms, although that is not how governments have long been elected in Tasmania, Eire and Malta, and now will be in the ACT. Potential for strong voter influence on who entered the ACT Assembly was a major selling point for Hare-Clark.
Next, the Commission failed to recognise countback to fill casual vacancies as an important feature, providing voters with greater choice at a general election and helping to preserve stability through a Parliament's life. Instead, its Report spoke of replacement by party appointment, and quite inexplicably of parties needing time to get their nomination strategies right. There is nothing about STV which requires artificial strategies.
Completing the party machine straitjacket, the Commission saw internal competition within parties as inherently bad. It lamely claimed that STV could result in too much emphasis on giving voters decent service. It said it cannot
"rule out the possibility that MPs elected under STV might concentrate on constituency work to the neglect of their parliamentary functions."
STV keeps vote wastage to a minimum. In its Hare-Clark manifestations it promotes voter involvement in political debate without undermining the capacity for effective party government. That is why our Society's Constitution specifies our support for quota-preferential methods.
List systems base seat allocation on some averaging of votes per elected member. They are not concerned about the aggregate levels of wasted votes, and generally leave voters little say about who enters Parliament. In service, they have produced such anomalies that many variants are in use to try to achieve greater fairness. No such tinkering has been needed with quota-preferential methods.
The ACT's twice-used d'Hondt system was a butt of constant public derision. The local-member element of NZ's MMP system is completely unsound. MMP tries to correct its defects by a second-rate (non-preferential) device. Why would users of better systems want MMP?
©1994 PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Crescent NARRABUNDAH ACT 2604 National Secretary: Robert Forster 38 French Street HACKETT ACT 2602 Telephone: (06) 295 8137, (06) 249 8546 Facsimile: (03) 589 1802 Printed by PANTHER PRINTING 12 Pirie Street ADELAIDE SA 5000
The Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory enacts as follows: