QUOTA  NOTES

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

Number 78                          June 1995               www.prsa.org.au

 

Address by New Zealand Cabinet Secretary on MMP's Likely Effects

Professor Cheryl Saunders, Director, Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at the University of Melbourne, invited the PRSA National Vice-President to be present at an interesting address on 1st June by the visiting Secretary of the New Zealand Cabinet since 1987, Mrs Marie Shroff, a public servant, who has also been the Clerk of the New Zealand Executive Council since then. Mrs Shroff is the first of two Australia New Zealand Foundation Visiting Fellows that will visit the Centre in 1995.

Mrs Shroff's address, entitled Government in Transition, was presented to about sixty people in the Council Room at the University of Melbourne. Present in the audience were the Governor of Victoria, Hon. Richard McGarvie, the former Governor-General of Australia, Sir Zelman Cowan, and several parliamentarians and others that have indicated an interest in PR. The latter included the Victorian Shadow Cabinet Secretary, Dr Ken Coghill MLA, the Hon. James Guest MLC (Liberal, Victoria), and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Professor David Pennington.

Mrs Shroff said that New Zealand's Mixed Member Proportional electoral system was now in force, and would apply whenever the next general election was held, which had to be by November 1996. Politicians and would-be politicians appeared to have adapted to the prospect of the new electoral system, as there have been a fair number of departures from existing parties into newly formed parties, some of which were previously factions within the older parties that were held together by the pressure of the previous first-past-the-post system rather than by much in the way of policies that their supporters genuinely preferred.

It was generally accepted that future governments would be coalitions, formed after a general election. The main consequences of the new system that she said appeared less foreseeable were many of the details of how such coalition governments would operate, particularly at the cabinet level, as there was very little precedent for such situations in other Westminster systems, and even less in New Zealand's. Mrs Shroff's research in Australia will consider the comparative structure and organization of Cabinet government in the context of factional and party political influences, and the formation and operation of coalition governments such as those formed by Australia's Liberal and National Parties.

Mrs Shroff suggested that Australia's very own Malcolm Mackerras might be one of the last opponents of MMP left. She has overlooked the PRSA, perhaps because none of its spokespersons visited New Zealand to campaign against MMP, whereas Mr Mackerras did, quite forcefully.

Nevertheless the PRSA's campaigns, on the three occasions when party list systems reached or approached the statute books in Australia (SA Upper House, NSW Upper House and the ACT Assembly), successfully helped bury the party list concept here. The PRSA also owes a lot to the voyage to Tasmania by John Humphris of the Proportional Representation Society of Great Britain and Ireland, whose appearance before a parliamentary committee there in 1917 helped avert the risk of a party list system subverting Hare-Clark. He also persuaded Tasmania to adopt its countback system for filling casual vacancies then.

New Zealand voters are now starting to see signs of some of the weaknesses of MMP that the PRSA and Malcolm Mackerras have warned about. The main front page headline on the Christchurch Star of 24th June 1995 read, Dalziel to gamble on list seat. The story revealed that Ms Dalziel was abandoning her safe Christchurch Central seat in favour of a place on the Labour Party list. Readers were told that she wants to be the next Health Minister, but as a list MP and not a constituency MP, and that her list position was unlikely to be above No. 4. The Labour Party leader is expected to have the No. 1 position, which is much safer than any safe directly elected MP could ever hope to be.

A digression that amused the gathering was her report on the first case of utilization of New Zealand's new Citizens' Initiated Referendum law. That law compels a referendum once a petition with signatures of 10% of persons on the New Zealand electoral roll (about 240,000 people) has been lodged, except that the House of Representatives may, by a vote, prohibit any referendum proceeding further. The only petition lodged so far which, it appears, will not be prohibited in that way, sought a referendum on the proposal That the number of firefighters in New Zealand not be decreased. The referendum is to be held on 2nd December 1995. Mrs Shroff said that the referendum would cost some $10 million dollars to hold, and would if successful require a further referendum to reverse it.

The Christchurch newspaper The Press of 24th June reported that the petition had been organized by the Professional Firefighters Union, which represents most of New Zealand's 1,812 professional firefighters. New Zealand's Internal Affairs Minister, Mr Warren Cooper, was quoted as criticizing the concept of the referendum and its use by the firefighters, and saying that they organized the petition to protect their feather-bedded conditions. The association that represents New Zealand's 8,000 volunteer firefighters supports the proposed restructuring of Fire Services. Mr Graeme Lee, a former Internal Affairs Minister, and now the Christian Democrat Leader, defended the referendum concept, but opposed the particular question.

The Australia New Zealand Foundation intends to publish the talk, and copies should be obtainable from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs.

A Brief History of the PRSA

A two-page handout has recently been produced by the PRSA in response to inquiries about the background of the Society. The following is the first part of the document, which is entitled A Brief History of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia.

 

The remaining parts will be published in future issues of Quota Notes.

 

"The movement began; most strongly in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria, in the second half of the 19th Century. Vote counting then was by highly unsatisfactory relative majority (first-past-the-post) procedures in single member, two-member or multi-member electoral districts. In the last two cases, plumping (not voting for all vacancies) was sometimes prohibited.

 

BRITISH ISLES:

Our fellow society, the Proportional Representation Society of Great Britain and Ireland, was founded in 1884. Renamed Electoral Reform Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1959, it published its history The Best System [1], in June 1984. Its distinguished presidents have included the fourth and the fifth Earls Grey, and in the 1980s the Hon. Dr Garret FitzGerald while Prime Minister of Eire. It recently sold PRSA its Dr I.D. Hill's software for computer PR counts.

 

As well as influencing the foundation of the Australian societies, the British Isles society helped Australia by sending its Secretary, John Humphris, to Tasmania during World War I where his evidence [1] to a Select Committee of the Parliament helped defeat a proposed change from the Hare-Clark quota-preferential system to a party list system, and also led to Tasmania's Electoral Act 1918, which began the filling of casual vacancies in the House of Assembly by the re-examination by the Electoral Office of the ballot-papers that formed the vacating member's quota.

 

SOUTH AUSTRALIA:

Catherine Helen Spence's 1861 booklet, A Plea for Pure Democracy [2] helped the early formation of a proportional representation group called the Effective Voting League. She saw Adelaide City Council's first election, by an early form of PR in 1840, as her father was Town Clerk. It was the world's first public election conducted by PR, and Australia's first public election. Miss Spence was the first female candidate at a public election in the British Empire when she stood unsuccessfully at the 1897 election (under the unfair first-past-the-post multiple vote) for the Australian Constitutional Convention. The State Electoral Division of Spence, and a statue in Light Square in Adelaide, unveiled on 10th March 1986 by H.M. the Queen, commemorate Miss Spence. The following day the PRSA launched its reprint of her booklet at the statue. A Proportional Representation League was formed in 1895. The PRSA's SA Branch influenced the replacement of the first party list system used for parliamentary elections in Australia by the present quota-preferential form of PR used now to elect SA's Legislative Council. Most municipalities in SA now use PR, partly due to PR Society information activities."

 

 

Proportional Representation and Victoria's Constitution

 

The PRSA National Vice-President was recently invited to write an article for the newsletter of the Victorian Chapter of the Constitutional Centenary Foundation on the above subject.

 

The article, which was approved by the Victorian Branch of the PRSA, as is required under the PRSA Constitution for matters that are entirely the subject of a particular state's legislation, is shown on Pages 3 and 4.

 

Article in CCF Newsletter (VIC) Winter 1995 by Geoffrey Goode, National Vice-President, Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

REFERENDUM PROTECTION NEEDED BEFORE VICTORIA'S PR DEBATE

 

Tasmanian and A.C.T. developments have intensified interest in improving and protecting the way electoral laws translate electors' votes into seats. An Inquiry ordered by Tasmania's Government and headed by Justice Morling, the Australian Electoral Commissioner, has recommended retaining the Assembly's superlative Hare-Clark proportional representation (PR), and extending it to Legislative Council elections. An absolute majority of A.C.T. electors (and 65% of voters at February's referendum initiated by the A.C.T. Assembly) approved legislation entrenching key principles of the Assembly's Hare-Clark PR electoral system.

 

Victoria's Parliament contrasts with other Australian parliaments by being the only bicameral parliament lacking a House elected by the PR principle. Other Australian parliaments - the Commonwealth changed in 1948 - showed bipartisan recognition, by adopting PR systems, of the justness of instituting representation of well beyond a bare majority of voters. Each Victorian House still only represents a bare majority of voters, as each House fills each of its seats as a single vacancy on the vote of a bare majority of voters (50% plus 1 vote). The votes of the almost equally numerous remainder (50% less 1 vote) in each seat have absolutely no effect on the result. They can all agree with the majority, or all disagree, but whichever way they vote each seat is filled the same way.

 

The PR approach enables a large majority of all voters (over 95% for the NSW Legislative Council), rather than a bare majority (50% plus 1 vote, in Victoria) to succeed in electing the candidate each voter marked as his or her first preference. Victoria's lack of bipartisan support for PR may change. Increasing awareness of PR's benefits interstate, and in New Zealand, and PR's status as the dominant Lower House electoral system in the economically successful and stable European Union countries make it increasingly attractive. PR's approximate doubling of the number of people electing MPs is a major reform comparable to the doubling of parliamentary representation that occurred when women gained the vote. It is an equally just and necessary reform.

 

This increasing goodwill towards PR might not ensure that the PR system adopted enhances voter control sufficiently. Fortunately the Commonwealth Constitution helps Australia here. The words directly chosen by the people in Sections 7 and 24 suggest that party list PR, the restrictive form adopted in New Zealand and Europe, which can prevent a voter giving his or her strongest support to a particular chosen individual candidate, would be unconstitutional for Commonwealth polls. Section 73 of Western Australia's Constitution Act, amended in 1978, provides a wider scope and a more subtle entrenchment than the Commonwealth's. WA's Constitution now entrenches a provision, removable only by referendum, that bills, whereby any MPs would not be chosen directly by the people, lapse unless approved at a referendum. This thwarted plans for filling WA Upper House vacancies by back-room party appointment, Senate-style - they are filled by recount of ballot-papers democratically cast at the prior public elections.

 

A Victorian Constitution to require democratic processes should follow WA's lead. It should, anticipating possible PR systems, also entrench a requirement that bills that would breach prescribed major Hare-Clark principles lapse unless approved at a referendum. Victorian voters would be protected from electoral provisions designed to favour party organizations at the expense of voters' choices by these principles entrenched by the A.C.T.'s Proportional Representation (Hare-Clark) Entrenchment Act 1994, a short Act of only five sections: (a) prohibition of group voting tickets or other deeming devices that detract from a fully preferential vote for individual candidates being invited, and implementable explicitly by the voter [Section 4.1 (c). (d), (e)] (b) a prescribed minimum number of members, to be an odd number, from each electorate [4.1 (a), (b)] (c) proper treatment of surpluses and exclusions to minimize vote wastage [4.1 (h), (j)] (d) the Robson Rotation, as defined in the Electoral Act 1992, to confine the use of party prescriptions on how-to-vote order to those explicitly choosing to implement them, and to achieve a uniform spread of donkey votes over all a party's candidates [4.1 (f)], and (e) filling of casual vacancies, where practicable, by re-counting the quota of ballot-papers of the vacating candidate to determine the next preference ultimately gaining an absolute majority of it [4.1 (k)]. This prompts parties to amplify choice by standing more candidates than expect election. It stabilizes Parliament between elections, and democratically obviates by-election polls.

 

If Victoria's Constitution had contained these protections, the flawed 1988 bill for Upper House PR would have omitted its party-oriented anti-voter Group Voting Tickets, and filling of casual vacancies by party appointment. Earlier PR used in South Australia and the A.C.T. was party list. After much public annoyance, direct and fair PR election ousted it. The bitter A.C.T. experience led to the belated entrenchment of Hare-Clark principles there. Victoria would surpass that by pre-ordaining referendum control of the limits tolerable.

 

These limits, not compelling PR, should be instituted calmly, well before PR becomes an issue, to prevent bad forms of PR being introduced precipitously, and protect PR if Victoria gained it. PR may well become law later; directly, or via a referendum choosing it over the present system.

 

Victoria's First Public PR Election after Local Government Act Change

History was made on 6th June 1995 when Royal Assent was given to a Government Bill that was the first Bill prescribing quota-preferential proportional representation as the electoral system for a public election ever passed by both Houses of the Parliament of Victoria. The Local Government (Further Amendment) Act 1995, Act No. 33 of 1995, provides that its electoral provisions come into operation from when the Bill receives Royal Assent.

The PR provisions apply only to the City of Melbourne, and were initiated by proposals from the commissioners of the City of Melbourne, who were appointed by the present Victorian Government to reform the operation of the municipality pending the restoration of public elections scheduled for March 1996.

The Kennett Liberal Government has shown that it can see merit in quota-preferential PR, and is now on the public record as being the first Victorian government to have succeeded in implementing it. It is significant that the PR law applies not to some small obscure municipality where it could be construed as a mere experiment or sop, but to Victoria's capital city.

The enactment also removes the impression that Victoria's Coalition parties might have had an absolute, non-negotiable hostility towards PR on principle. The Coalition's firm opposition to the previous ALP Government's Bills for PR for Legislative Council elections, and as an option for municipal elections, resulted in the Coalition using its Upper House majority to prevent those Bills, which had been passed by the Lower House, from proceeding further.

The Bill is interesting also in that it does not provide PR as an option, but instead requires it to be used.

There are now two groups of municipalities awaiting restoration of municipal elections - those being restored in March 1996 and those being restored 12 months later. The PRSA's Victorian Branch has already written to each council in the former group suggesting that it approach the Government to introduce a provision that would at least allow councils the option of using PR.

The Secretary of the PRSA's Victorian Branch, Mrs Nancye Yeates, has reported that the commissioners of the municipality she lives in, the City of Port Phillip, have just published their proposals for when elections are to be restored there. They are following somewhat the lead of the City of Melbourne in that they propose a seven-member Council, consisting of five wards each electing a single councillor, plus an electoral district of the whole municipality electing two councillors by the quota-preferential method of proportional representation. They state that they intend to seek the changes to Victoria's Local Government Act that would be required to allow proportional representation to be used.

 

Copyright 1995 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Cr. NARRABUNDAH 2604

National Secretary: Dr Stephen Morey 4 Sims Street SANDRINGHAM 3191

Tel: (02) 6295 8137, (03) 9598 1122      info@prsa.org.au

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