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John Cain's threshold proposal would make Victoria's

Legislative Council electoral system much less fair


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The former Victorian Premier, John Cain, has written a letter to The Age proposing a modification of the above electoral system that would be very unfair to voters other than those for the two major parties.



Response by the PRSA's Victoria-Tasmania Branch to Mr Cain's letter:


John Cain (16/12/2010) urges the Coalition to alter the proportional voting system for Victoria’s Legislative Council, to introduce an exclusionary threshold device to eliminate parties with less that "say 5 or 6%" of the vote from the count before any preferences are distributed.


The threshold device seeks to unfairly discriminate between independent candidates and those belonging to a party. If Mr Cain had his way, before any distribution of the preferences that we, the voters, have marked could be counted, any candidate who belonged to a group not receiving the 'threshold' would be eliminated, and unable to receive preferences.


The candidates that Mr Cain wants to eliminate actually receive more first preference votes than those lower down on the major party's list. For example, in the recent election in Northern Metropolitan, Stephen Mayne received 3809 first preference votes and Craig Ondarchie 245. Mr Mayne would have been excluded from the count because he belonged to a group that didn't receive 5%, whereas Mr Ondarchie (who was subsequently elected) would remain in the count. That injustice would occur, despite greater voter support relative to Mr Mayne, solely because Mr Ondarchie belonged to a group receiving above 5%, and Mr Mayne did not.


This distorting and manipulative device would override the clearly expressed wish of the voter that his or her vote be transferred to the candidate he or she has explicitly marked or, in the case of an above-the-line vote, has authorized. Under Mr Cain's proposal, anyone who didn't want to vote for a major party would find their vote exhausted, or quickly transferred to one of the major parties.


Such a suggestion was made by former NSW Liberal senator Helen Coonan for the Senate a decade ago - fortunately without success. As things stand now, larger parties elect more MPs than smaller parties and independents, but not disproportionately more - yet. John Cain's renewal of this campaign, wisely not pursued by John Howard's government, seeks less proportionality - and thus less fairness - in our electoral system.


Thresholds have only been tried twice in Australia, for the South Australian Legislative Council in the 1970s, and later for the first two elections for the Australian Capital Territory's Legislative Assembly. The anomalies those threshold rules created led to much public dissatisfaction. Those threshold rules were soon discontinued.


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