The 1993 Annual General Meeting of the PRSA's Queensland Branch supported a campaign to establish a State Upper House, elected by quota-preferential PR. It might not be practicable to achieve the ideal of a Hare-Clark system allowing voters maximum voter choice, but a party-list system would be unacceptable. The 'stage-managed' PR systems used for the Senate and the NSW, SA and WA upper houses may be acceptable compromises in the last resort, given that party politicians would be passing the legislation, and it must be put to a referendum, as the unicameral nature of the Queensland Parliament is 'entrenched' by the State Constitution.
The decision to support an Upper House generated some debate within the Branch. All agreed that ideally our ultimate goal would be to achieve quota-preferential PR for the Legislative Assembly itself, the seat of government. However, at present the best chance to increase the level of PR within the Queensland Parliament would be to support moves for an Upper House. This has the active support of the Greens and the Australian Democrats and the approval in principle of the Liberal-National Coalition. The Labor Party continues its historic antipathy towards Upper Houses, although some independent Left critics have been open to re-thinking the old battles of the past. Bob Leach, a politics lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology, wrote recently in the West End Community News,
"New Zealand was ideal as a New Right social experiment. It had ... a unicameral Parliament (the Left should curse the day we shot Upper Houses in the head. Think again!) ..."
The Branch has set out its plan as a draft Bill-cum-discussion-paper setting out one proposed model of a new 'Legislative Council of Queensland'. The drafters drew mainly on the constitutional provisions of NSW, SA and WA, although with certain modifications. The 12-page paper, which covers matters such as rotation of terms and procedures for resolving deadlocks by referendum, can be obtained from the Branch Secretary (Tom Round) c/- School of Justice Administration, Griffith University QLD 4111, (07) 3217 4169, or e-mail T.Round@edn.gu.edu.au.
Any candidate may submit a statement of up to one hundred words to the Returning Officer, who shall submit it to voters with the ballot-papers. The two-year term of each office begins on 1st January 1996. If any poll is required, ballot-papers will be posted on 7th November 1995, and the poll will close on 14th December 1995. Results will appear in December's Quota Notes.
A MODERN VERSION of the Constitutional Convention popularly elected just before Federation could develop proposals that Australians may well accept at a referendum. That Convention did draft a constitution that was adopted.
It consisted, for most colonies, entirely of members directly elected by the people. Those colonies comprised some 80% of Australia's eligible voters.
Only Queensland and Western Australia declined to let their people elect members directly.
Some proposals for a modern Convention ignore the successful 1890s precedent by including members representing groups or interests decided, not by direct popular election, but by government nomination. It is claimed that a directly elected Convention may have insufficient women, aboriginal or ethnic members or members of other significant groups that merit representation.
Some want such groups represented by members of those groups, but the best representative for a group, as judged by the members of the group or even by others, is not necessarily a member of the group. The important principle is that the group's members should decide, by their votes, taken at the sarne time as everyone else's, who their representative should be, and that their votes should be effective, ie. they should contribute to electing someone.
They may well choose one of their members, but they should have the liberty to choose someone else if they consider that person to be more appropriate.
The manner of who their representative is should not be imposed on them, by restricting their choice in the guise of paternalistically limiting the choice of their representative. Direct election by a proportional representation (PR) system is the fairest way of representing Australians on a Convention.
Election of a Convention from multi-member electoral districts keeps ballot-papers and the range of choices to a manageable size.
Party list systems prevent direct election of members, and deny transfer of candidates' preferences, and so have consistently been, and would be, rejected by Australians. Equal representation from each State, with only minimum Territory representation, would maximise the chance of a successful referendum, as gaining a majority of States is crucial.
The 1890s Convention used an extremely unrepresentative winner-take-all voting system. The history of such systems tried and discarded for the Senate favours PR. The party-oriented aspects of the present Senate PR system, such as Group Voting Tickets or the long-standing device of the order on the ballot-paper being determined by the party would be readily seen as inconsistent with an untrammelled expression of voters' real assessment of their combinations of specific positions on changes to the Constitution.
Practical outcomes of the use of the Hare-Clark PR system for Tasmania's House of Assembly, and recently for the ACT's Legislative Assembly, show it to be ideal for allowing voters full scope to translate their combinations of positions into Convention seats in ways that most fairly and accurately mirror public opinion.
Electoral districts similar to the Senate's, and a similar, but odd, number of members per district, offer a proven familiar model. It ensures that the quota for election (about 8%) is neither so high that it would unfairly exclude significant strands of public opinion nor so low that it would facilitate the election of zealots, or too many single-issue candidates.
Hare-Clark's Robson Rotation ensures that, for each candidate, equal numbers of ballot-papers are provided with that candidate's name in the various favoured positions.
That ensures an outcome affected by the cumulative and collective result of individual voters' choices of candidates within groups of associated candidates, rather than by the decision of a tiny group of preselectors being able to decide the order of names on a ballot-paper with the predictable result that the electors will generally endorse that order, almost entirely by default.
Hare-Clark's filling of each casual vacancy, by count-back of the ballot-papers the vacating member received, fills it by direct election. Direct election by PR at the general election and at the filling of crucial casual vacancies most importantly ensures always that the occupants of all seats have been able to be installed by the voters alone. Count-back encourages interest groups to stand a larger selection of candidates than if they did not have to provide for the filling of casual vacancies in that way.
Filling casual vacancics by a majority by-election poll would obviously be distorting and departing from the PR principle.
If casual vacancies were filled by the elected body or a caucus of people of the same party as the vacating representative, the voters would not be deciding their representative - directly. A previously publicised fait accompli list of replacement members would also fail to allow individual direct decision by the voters.
A Convention powerless to promote constitutional change would be pointless. Alteration of the Constitution requires approval of either House and the Governor-General.
Legislation for a Convention should empower it to recommend draft Constitution Alteration Bills to the Govemor-General, who should be required to gazette the Bills, and to advise Parliament of the intention of the legislation that they be introduced by a Minister, to be considered by Parliament as possible Bills to be put to a referendum. The public would be watching this.
THE COALITION wants any debate on constitutional change to be open, informed, and involve the participation of as many as possible in the community. The pages of history are littered with constitutional referenda that have failed because they did not have bi-partisan support.
The current constitutional arrangements have served Australia well, delivering great stability, cohesion and tolerance.
Despite the success of the present Constitution, many Australians are attracted to the idea of a republic and the Coalition believes that the matter should be fully debated and ultimately a vote taken on the issue before the turn of the century.
In government, the Coalition will in 1997 establish a People's Convention to debate the whole issue. There will be other matters discussed at the People's Convention. However, the issue of Australia's Head of State will be debated first and separate from the other issues.
If a consensus emerges from the People's Convention regarding the Head of State, that consensus will be promoted by the Government at a constitutional referendum.
If no consensus emerges, then the Australian people will be asked to vote on a series of options for changes to establish which of them they desire.
These options for change will include that of electing the President by direct popular vote, as well as by a Parliamentary vote as proposed by the Prime Minister. Another method of election could also emerge as an option from the whole process of discussion. Naturally the option of retaining the present system would be included in any vote.
If it becomes necessary to put a series of options to the people, then a two stage process would be required. The first stage would be in effect a consultative referendum to determine which option for change the people wanted.
Then a formal constitutional proposal would need to be put, giving legal effect to the option chosen by the people in the consultative process. Australians who support the present system could vote against tbe proposal.
The Convention will comprise 50% of delegates to be elected and 50% of delegates to be appointed.
Delegates will be popularly elected members of the community from within the States and Territories.
Members of Parliament will not be able to stand for the popular elections.
In recognition that women and people from non-English speaking backgrounds are currently under-represented in the decision making process, strenuous efforts will be made to encourage them to stand for popular election as delegates.
Provision will exist for appointment as delegates to the Convention of representatives from Local Government and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities.
The Constitution is for the future and as such it is vital that young people are represented.
To that end a Coalition Prime Minister, in consultation with the Premiers and Chief Ministers will ensure that young people are guaranteed places as delegates. Among the 50% of the members of the Convention that will be appointed, 10 per cent of those will be in the age bracket between 18 and 25.
Reshaping our constitution should be an opportunity to bind the nation, not divide it.
In the inner-northern suburbs, there would be three Local Area Planning Advisory Committees (LAPACs) with elected representatives for suburb and business interests. Mr Humphries, the architect of Hare-Clark's entrenchment legislation, naturally insisted that quota-preferential counting rules apply for these elections each involving the filling of one (an existing residents' association could nominate one suburb representative) or two vacancies.
After consultating the Society's ACT Branch, the ACT Planning Authority obtained ministerial approval for a set of voting and scrutiny procedures that encouraged participation (candidates could nominate during area meetings) and ensured fairness to all candidates and voters. Optional preferential voting applied, each vote was counted as 100, transfer values were defined to minimize wastage, and countback procedures were adopted for filling casual vacancies in the case of contested elections.
ACT Branch members were available to conduct the scrutinies required. With two-vacancy quotas no greater than 20, counting usually took less than 15 minutes and results were quickly announced to an appreciative audience.
The Review Panel's report focussed on making the process of voting easier. As ATSIC elections use no special roll, each vote is enclosed in an envelope for checking that eligibility criteria are met before it is admitted to the scrutiny. Apparently many people refuse to vote as they feel apprehensive about confidentiality being respected. The Panel recommended that a separate roll be established to obviate the need for such procedures. To simplify ballot-papers and discourage candidates that were not serious, it also suggested that grouping of names not be permitted for the time being, and that a nomination fee of $50 be introduced. It came to no conclusion on suggestions that half the Councillors should be elected in rotation, recommended that there be between 8 and 12 people on a Council, and agreed that the AEC should be given specific injunctive power to deal with electoral breaches early. The Society will, in the first instance, approach the AEC about its proposals for improvement of scrutiny procedures.
With the early introduction of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 1995, the ACT Attorney-General, Mr Gary Humphries MLA, has sought to remedy the one glaring defect in the ACT's Hare-Clark legislation, namely the distribution of how-to-vote material up to 6 metres from a polling place. The intention is to emphasize the enhanced role Robson Rotation gives voters in determining who is elected to the Assembly, by prohibiting canvassing or distributing electoral matter within 100 metres of a defined polling area.
As the ACT Electoral Commissioner can gazette the boundaries of a defined polling area, the legislation cannot be circumvented if there are unusual layouts near a polling place. Voters will be much freer to choose to proceed into any polling place without interruption.
Recognizing that these arrangements would strike a splendid balance between candidates' and parties' constitutional rights to communicate with voters,and voters' rights to exercise their franchise free of last-moment lobbying, pressure or harassment, the ACT Branch has written to MLAs urging their support for the Bill unamended. It seems quite incongruous to subject voters to a a final barrage on the point of voting, or to turn polling compartments into zones for possible last-moment influence with displayed how-to-vote material, when Hare-Clark encourages voters to give thought to whom they want as their representatives.
The experience in February was of voters largely making up their own mind, and that trend is likely to firm. People can bring with them any campaign material they find helpful, but the clear layout of the ballot-paper will mean that most can number their choices without assistance. Those that become confused after receiving their ballot-paper can always obtain help from a friend, a party scrutineer or an electoral official to ensure their wishes are properly recorded.
©1995 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) 9589 1802 Printed by PANTHER PRINTING 12 Pirie Street ADELAIDE SA 5000