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Response to Recommendation 54 of Victoria's Local Government Review Panel

Panel's Recommendation 54 - Filling casual vacancies:
Panel recommends that the countback process for multi-member elections be amended to include the valid votes cast by all voters at that election to identify the next candidate to fill a vacancy, should it arise. The exception to this arrangement is the City of Melbourne, where candidates run as part of a team or group.

The legislation should also be amended to provide for a by-election when the replacement candidate declines or is ineligible or the vacancy is the second or subsequent since the previous election.

Opposition to replacing countback with a total recount:
PRSAV-T Inc. opposes the first paragraph of Recommendation 54 as it considers that replacement of the countback process that has been provided for filling casual vacancies in Tasmania’s House of Assembly since 1918, in the Australian Capital Territory’s Legislative Assembly since 1994, and in Victorian municipal councils since 2003, with the total recount process that has been provided for filling casual vacancies in Western Australia’s Legislative Council would be a downgrading of the present method of filling casual vacancies.

The present countback method is a much superior method to the total recount method because it properly confines the basis of the election of the replacement to the quota of votes that elected the vacating candidate at the original election. The seat won by the vacating candidate was based on a particular quota of votes, so it is important to confine the count to that quota of votes if the balance and composition of the council originally elected is to be maintained, and not arbitrarily disturbed by the fact of a particular councillor’s death or withdrawal as a councillor.

The argument that the residual votes that were insufficient to form a quota at the original election should be able to be included as part of a new quota that might arise in a total recount misses the point that those votes did rightly not contribute towards deciding who any of the originally elected people would be, and should therefore - to preserve the stability, balance and representative nature of the council - not contribute to deciding who will be a replacement councillor.

The present Victorian method keeps the same voters that elected the vacating councillor in charge of electing his or her replacements, whereas the proposal to move to the total recount method would allow some of those voters to be displaced by different voters, who had not voted for a successful candidate at the general election. That proposal would let the basis of legitimacy of the representative in place stray away from its original electors to a different group.

Proven Tasmanian approach is superior to the procrastinating Victorian variant:
The mention of the case of “… when the replacement candidate declines …” reveals a deficiency of the Victorian approach versus the much more soundly-based Tasmanian approach that needs to be remedied. In Tasmania the countback is confined to eligible candidates that have explicitly consented to being included in the countback, whereas in Victoria the countback is conducted with all former candidates being included, with the winner then being requested to consent to becoming a replacement councillor.

The procrastinating Victorian approach includes an undefined number of successive 48-hour periods granted to possible successive candidates revealed to have succeeded in a countback to ponder whether they want to accept a position. It should be replaced with the decisive Tasmanian approach here, and there could then be no such person as a “declining replacement candidate”, because the replacement candidate would have explicitly accepted before the countback.

By-election polls for a single vacancy in a multi-councillor electoral district should be a last resort:
PRSAV-T Inc. strongly opposes the second and final paragraph of Recommendation 54, as a byelection for a single councillor position in a multi-councillor electoral district:
  • would be potentially far more distorting for the overall balance of opinion on the council than any likely outcome of second or subsequent countbacks for a particular seat,

  • would be more expensive and unnecessarily intrusive for voters, and

  • could change the whole balance of the council depending mainly, and improperly, on the fortuitous circumstance of whether the particular councillor that had vacated the seat earned with a quota, like the other councillors for the single electoral district involved, happened to represent a group of voters that was in the majority in that district or happened not to represent such a group, without voters having any ability to vote on the positions of any other councillor.

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