Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia
QN1998B June 1998 www.prsa.org.au
The above slogan began to
appear on car number plates issued in the State of
This period has seen, for the first time in Victorian history, the gradual appearance, in several stages, for some areas of local government, of legislation providing for some quota-preferential proportional representation at municipal polls.
To be fair it must be recognized that the Bill introduced by the then Australian Labor Party Government, to repeal the Local Government Act 1958 and replace it with the present Local Government Act 1989, would have allowed councils to choose a PR electoral system. The Legislative Assembly passed that Bill effectively intact, but the Legislative Council, where the ALP lacked a majority, deleted the PR provisions in the Bill by the combined vote of the non-ALP parties. Those parties included the Opposition Liberal Party, which was being led by Mr Kennett.
The gradual move towards the first appearance of quota-preferential proportional representation in a Victorian statute was helped by a call from Ms Elizabeth Proust, the then Chief Executive Officer of the Melbourne City Council, for legislation for PR for her city (QN63). The Council followed with public hearings by a Council committee, at which a submission and appearance by the then PRSA President, Geoffrey Goode, was well received, and remarked upon favourably in a subsequent 1993 published report recommending PR for the city (QN69).
Section 10(4) of Victoria's Local Government Act 1989 achieved its present form, which requires quota-preferential proportional representation for five of the nine members of Melbourne City Council, in 1995 (QN78). Unfortunately countback was not enacted for filling casual vacancies. That resulted in the filling, in early 1998, of a single casual vacancy by a poll of the whole municipality. That cost nearly as much as the original general election for five members, and unnecessarily inconvenienced citizens.
From 1997 (QN1997D), Section 10(6) of the Local Government Act 1989 stated that an Order-in-Council could require that proportional representation must apply to other specified councils, in whole or in part, although that power has not yet been exercised
The final, and a most welcome,
move to date has been the introduction by the Government of a current bill
that would provide that casual vacancies from PR municipal polls shall be
filled by countback. If that bill is passed
Legislative Council Elections
The ALP Government had also tried, in accord with its recently adopted party policy, to legislate for PR for the Legislative Council rather than maintaining its earlier goal of abolishing that chamber, but its bills for PR there were also rejected by the Upper House. Those PR bills for Upper House polls unfortunately not only incorporated all the undesirable features that make the stage-managed Senate-style PR much inferior to Hare-Clark PR from the voters' point of view, but also added a more serious defect, whereby it was proposed that casual vacancies should be explicitly filled by party nomination.
At the well-attended 1998
Annual General Meeting of PRSA's Victorian Branch in April the Guest Speaker,
the ALP Frontbencher, Mr Peter Batchelor, gave an
informative account of the Party's policy for the electoral system for the
Legislative Council. The policy is for each house to have a General Election
on the same day, and for each to have fewer MPs - a reduction from 44 to 35
for the Upper House, and from 88 to 85 for the Lower House. The 35 Upper
House members would be elected from five 7-member provinces, and the 85 Lower
House members would be elected from 85 single-member electoral districts. The
principle of the present feature of
The results of the General Election on 13th June 1998 for all 89 seats in Queensland's Legislative Assembly have understandably produced strong reactions, some of approval and some of disapproval, to the surprising success of Mrs Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party. That the party has made Australian history by being the first party founded by a woman to win seats in an Australian Parliament, and furthermore that it has done so on a scale of some significance, in a Lower House with a winner-take-all electoral system, is an aspect that has been lost in the general all-round shock.
Although it had no candidates in 11 of the Assembly's 89 seats, the One Nation Party gained some 23% of the first preference votes State-wide. The single-member 'winner-take-all' electoral system translated that level of voter support into a share of the seats of some 12.4%. The State-wide minority of One Nation voters is represented by a disproportionately small minority of MPs. Many voters for larger parties favour that penalty for small parties, but the price paid can be dangerously high as explained below.
If the party had stood a candidate in every seat, the fraction of the vote it gained would have come even closer to the highly significant level of 25% State-wide. That level is significant in a single-member system, as a 25% State-wide vote is the threshold value above which it is rapidly becomes possible, as the vote level increases, for a single party whose supporters are regionally concentrated to win an absolute majority of seats even though it gains well short of an absolute majority of first preference votes State-wide, and even though it may be put last in preference by all other parties and voters.
This is possible in single-member systems as only half of the votes (plus one vote) is needed to elect each MP in each seat. Thus if One Nation polled from 51-55% in 50 Queensland seats and in the 39 other seats variously polled very low, or did not stand, it, or any other party that polled that way in its place, would win more than 50% of the Assembly seats, with less than 30% of the State-wide vote, despite every other candidate and party putting them last in their order of preference. This is a serious and unavoidable consequence of single-member electorate systems, and applies even when the traditional faults of such systems, malapportionment and gerrymanders, are absent. It is made even worse where first-past-the-post counting applies.
In sharp contrast a major quality of proportional representation electoral systems is that minority parties are restricted to minority representation. Of course the 'price', as some would term it, for that important democratic safeguard is that minorities are not denied representation in proportion to their electoral strength. The single-member system only blunts the strength of minorities - it does not necessarily prevent all representation, as One Nation has shown, but its far more serious and potentially tragic failing is that, unlike PR, it can, because it gives effectiveness to so few votes, allow a distinct minority to gain an absolute majority of seats in its own right.
Canada's Reform Party, which has much in common with Australia's One Nation Party, became in 1997 (QN1997B) the Official Opposition in the Canadian House of Commons with just a 19.4% overall vote. Experience as the Official Opposition can lead a party to moving on to Government.
The analysis of the 1998 polls on Pages 4 and 5 (online version here) shows that under a Hare-Clark PR system there would have been some 21% of the Assembly elected as One Nation MLAs, given the 23% vote for that party, compared to the 12% elected under the present system.
A feature of the analysis is
the extreme over-representation of the ALP in the
The shaded boxes in the
analysis table mark the 71 of
The Senate Hansard of Monday, 29th June 1998, records that the Senate has acted positively in supporting a sounder basis than the customary rule for deciding how State senators elected after a double dissolution will be divided into long-term (6 year) senators and short-term (3 year) senators. Section 13 of the Constitution requires that division to be decided by a resolution of the Senate after its first meeting following a dissolution of both houses, but it is silent on the basis to be used. Since Federation the custom has been to use the order in which senators in each State are elected as the basis - the first half elected became long-term senators, and the others short-term senators.
The order of election as a basis of dividing senators into two classes was credible enough under the Senate's two previous electoral systems, first-past-the-post block vote till 1919, and multiple majority-preferential until 1948, but not under proportional representation, where the mere order in which candidates are elected is not necessarily related to the relative degree of support they received at the poll. Happily, a well-founded rational basis has been recognized.
This year, 1998, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the present Senate electoral system - quota-preferential proportional representation - which has now survived longer than the combined life of the two previous systems. The new basis is in Section 282 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, introduced in 1984 as a facilitator for use by the Senate in allocating long-term positions. Section 282 requires the Australian Electoral Commission to conduct a further count of ballots cast at an election for the whole Senate, in which the aim is to show which candidates would have been elected if only half the full number of senators had to be elected. It is easily seen as an obvious and precise indication, for each State, of its voters' priorities in regard to which half of the senators elected should have the highest priority to be made long-term senators.
Coalition and ALP senators, and the Greens Senator Bob Brown voted for the successful motion below, but the Australian Democrats repeated their stance of the 1980s by opposing the motion. Their opposition to the fairer basis is consistent with the fact that it would yield them fewer long-term senators, whereas it would benefit the major parties.
The Senate Hansard record on 29th June is as follows: Motion (by Senator Faulkner) agreed to: That the Senate is of the view that, in the event of a simultaneous dissolution of both Houses under section 57 of the Constitution, the division of senators into two classes for the purposes of rotation should be in accordance with the results of a re-count of the Senate vote under section 282 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to determine the order of election of senators in each State.
Senator BARTLETT (
Senator BARTLETT - I just wish to indicate on behalf of the Democrats that we opposed this motion because we believe it is inappropriate for this Senate to be expressing opinions to a future Senate which, as has been widely noted, may be of a vastly different composition from the one that currently sits here. If we are going to start doing that on issues such as this, we may as well start doing it on issues such as how to appoint the President or the Deputy President after the next election. For that reason, we feel it is inappropriate to support a motion which expresses an opinion so different from that which has been expressed by the Senate on every previous occasion this century.
Senator BROWN (
The history of the debate on which option should be taken here is one that is a studied effort in political advantage. When it comes down to it, it is very slim, but there is at the margins the possibility that one senator who would have got a three-year term under the alternative means of counting will end up with a six-year term. I think there is fairly wide agreement, including from people like Malcolm Mackerras, that the half Senate counting form should be adopted throughout and that it is the most democratic form. I notice that the Proportional Representation Society of Australia agrees with that.
Therefore, on the advice of that society, I support this motion, but I think we ought not leave open the option of twiddling it -- of having the next election according to the interests of various parties. If this is the most democratic way of determining which senators become six-year senators and which senators become three-year senators after a double dissolution election, then we should reach for a means of making that a standard way of behaviour.
Senator Robert Ray - Change the constitution.
Senator BROWN - No, not change the constitution, Senator Ray, but at least legislate so there has to be great deliberation and an obvious act of political self-investment before the country can overturn it. I agree that changing the constitution would be very difficult for a minor matter like this. Most people in here do not understand the matter, so how would you convey it to the wider electorate? They simply want to know that there is a fair formula which is agreed on and which is permanent, and that is what we should be aiming for.
A Statehood Convention was held
at Parliament House in
In December 1996, a Final Draft
Constitution for the
The PRSA President, Bogey Musidlak, assisted Territorians that wanted to update and circulate material about proportional representation. This included simulated quota-preferential elections based on the 1997 poll (QN 1997C), which left the Country Liberal Party with 18 of the 25 Assembly seats. Distributions into five five-member electorates, or mixtures containing one or two seven-member electorates in the wider Darwin-Palmerston area, resulted in the CLP winning 14 or 15 seats: there was no longer a major distortion between votes and seats around Darwin, and both Labor and the CLP would have obtained representation in all parts of the Territory, although the delegate Margaret Clinch presented an excellent case for five five-member electorates, the majority of delegates remaining after a partial walkout over some aboriginal rights issues on 8th April 1998 voted that single-member electorates be specified in any Constitution.
As the body of resolutions passed by the appointed Convention included many items over which there was strong disagreement, it is quite uncertain whether anything will come of them. Former Labor Senator Bob Collins warned delegates at the outset that passage of enabling legislation through the Senate would be unlikely unless a spirit of reasonable compromise and consensus prevailed throughout.
On 12th December 1997 the UK Home Secretary, Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, delivered his Second Reading Speech on the above Bill, which provides for the retention of STV (quota-preferential PR) for Northern Ireland seats in the European Parliament, but the substitution of a closed d'Hondt party list form of PR for the remaining UK seats, which have been filled by first-past-the-post counting until now.
The House of Commons passed the Bill in March. It is now being debated in the House of Lords. Members of the Electoral Reform Society there moved an amendment (No. 12) to substitute STV for the closed d'Hondt party list proposed, but the Government appears unmoved. A closed party list is the most restrictive PR, where voters are only allowed to mark a vote for one party, with no option to indicate their preferences between parties or any of the candidates within any party. Debate on 24th June 1998 included the following speeches by ERS members.
Earl Russell: '...
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of
STV is also the policy of my
party. It has most recently been reaffirmed at the Southport Conference last
March. The arrangement we reached in
The first thing we do if we
adopt STV is to introduce a uniform electoral system for the United Kingdom
of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said,
STV has been in use for a long time in
At this juncture, it would be
most unwise of us to convey the impression that in
There are two functions in an election: it should give victory to the most popular party and to the most popular candidate. It is the first which first-past-the-post is most often reproached for not doing. The reproach is valid. It does not always do that well in relation to the other. ...
... Because so much of the propaganda for proportional representation has been in terms, perfectly justified terms, of striking the right balance between the parties, we have tended to lose sight of the real importance of having individual candidates who are accountable to the electorate and acceptable to them. Both of those are responsibilitiesof an electoral system.
It is my contention that STV is the only one that does both. It is also the one which is most likely to be made acceptable to the voters. That is not a negligible consideration. At our party conference in Eastbourne last September, one speaker said that before the referendum - I know that is wide of the present Bill but it is nevertheless of interest - we should consider what is the most powerful argument that might be used against proportional representation. I think the most powerful argument by far will be the one which I have heard and respected from the Benches on my left; namely, the extent to which other systems of proportional representation tend to increase the power of party patronage. Mr. Andrew Rawnsley writing in The Observer last Sunday reported that the Jenkins Commission through its research had found an overwhelming extent of public reaction against the growth of party control of the electoral machinery. I do not know whether that is true but it certainly coincides with my own experience. ...
... The point about STV is that it restores the choice of who the member is to the voter. That is surely where in any democratic system it belongs. ...
The Earl Kitchener: 'The main difference between the two voting systems we are considering is that STV gives power to the voters rather than to the politicians and that nearly all voters will have a link to one or more candidates whom they have helped to elect. It also has the merit of simplicity. With the proposed number of MEPs per region being about 8, the proportionality of party votes to members would be much the same as that given by the system proposed in the Bill.
STV has been used for many
years in the
The only serious objection that
I can see to STV is that it may encourage a sitting member to devote too much
time to his constituents at the expense of his wider duties because he is
vulnerable to being replaced by a member of his own party who has cultivated
the voters. The remedy for that lies in the good sense of the electors, who
should give full weight to the work the member is doing outside his
constituency. This objection has been raised mainly in the
An objection has been raised that STV is complicated, but it is not complicated for the voter, and the effort involved in the counting has been much reduced by computerization. The Minister referred to the need for the voter to express 50 choices. It is true that in a very close contest any vote that does not include at least all candidates except one may be partly wasted. In practice it is the early preferences which will count, unless they are for very weak candidates. The Committee is in a particularly strong position to put the interests of the voters before those of the politicians. A vote for this amendment would at least stimulate a careful examination of the many virtues of the single transferable vote.'
An enthusiastic initiator, always full of ideas, and never afraid to question orthodoxy, David Vigor played an important role in galvanizing Australian political alternatives in the 1970s and 1980s. Gregarious by nature, he nurtured long-term networks of friends whom he invited to join him in changing the world. His sudden death of a heart attack on 9th April 1998 aged 58 is a major loss to supporters of proportional representation.
An only child, born in
Preselected to lead the South Australian Democrat Senate team in 1984, David's maiden speech emphasized new thinking for a post-industrial economy. For two and a half years, he worked prodigiously to develop a 'strong self-reliant Australia, in technology, in trade, in defence and in spirit', drawing up Private Member's Bills on a wide variety of subjects, including electoral reform, and becoming known for his tenacious probing of government administration in the Estimates Committees.
In 1986's dark days for the Special Broadcasting Service, he gave hope and courage to those being misled into believing it could be dismantled by 'administrative action'. He protected liberal trading hours in the ACT and quickened the advent of airline travel free from tobacco smoke by introducing legislation that embarrassed a tardy government.
His insistence on effective voting that could not produce lopsided Assemblies in the ACT led to plans for self-government being temporarily shelved in 1986. It inspired the subsequent introduction and entrenchment of the Hare-Clark system of proportional representation after the abominable experience with the 'Modified d'Hondt' system that was imposed by the Federal Parliament for the 1989 and 1992 elections.
In the Senate, David spoke regularly on the need for electoral reform that empowered voters. His 1986 Private Member's Bill for effective ACT self-government detailed the operation of the Hare-Clark system, while another sought to do away with House of Representatives by-election polls through a system of countback. During debate on electoral legislation in May 1987, he unsuccessfully moved a raft of amendments seeking to introduce the quota-preferential method of proportional representation for the House of Representatives.
He also placed on record deficiencies in the definition of the transfer value adopted for Senate elections in 1983, and criticized the Australian Electoral Commission for responding with gobbledegook when asserting that there was nothing untoward with the possibility of transfer values increasing during the course of a scrutiny.
Caught up in ongoing turmoil within the South Australian Democrats, David joined John Siddons outside the party, but was unsuccessful at the 1987 double dissolution poll. He returned to computer consultancy and software development, actively supporting proportional representation by his continuing membership of the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia that included vice presidency between 1993 and 1995, and by his holding office in the Association of Former Members of the Parliament of Australia.
He is survived by his widow Susan, seven children and seven grandchildren.
Voters experienced a 50% increase in the number of candidates nominating for the ACT's election on 21st February 1998, with 28 and 31 in the two five-member electorates and 49 in Molonglo. Nearly half of this increase arose because the Australian Democrats (17 candidates) and ACT Greens (15) decided to stand much larger teams, and a further quarter came from ungrouped candidates (17) - once again all unsuccessful.
Of the 91 unsuccessful candidates, 65 lost their deposit, as they did not achieve one-fifth of a quota at exclusion. They included 15 ungrouped candidates, 14 Democrats, 11 Greens, 3 ALP team members and 2 Liberals. Independent Paul Osborne organized two-candidate teams in each electorate, emerging with the third-largest ACT-wide voting support. Colleague Dave Rugendyke was comfortably elected in Ginninderra at the expense of the ACT Greens after nearly 45% of the last Democrat's votes became exhausted upon her exclusion.
This was the first election at which distribution of how-to-vote material was prohibited within 100 metres of any polling place during voting. Turnout was up around 3% to 93%, and informal voting dropped by one-third to about 4%, most of it deliberate. Because of official material mailed to voters before the 1992 plebiscite, ballot-papers ask voters to mark at least as many preferences as there are vacancies: nevertheless, voters are free to choose how many preferences they mark.
Liberal leader Kate Carnell alone achieved a quota of first preferences, polling over one-third of the vote in Molonglo. Her Deputy, Gary Humphries, was elected once her surplus was distributed. A series of exclusions therefore dominated the early part of each scrutiny, with a flurry of quotas achieved right at their end.The Liberal, and ALP, vote fell by some 4%, to 37.8% and 27.6% respectively but, as shown below, the Liberals retained 7 seats and the ALP 6. The Osborne Group and ACT Greens each won 9.1%, taking two seats and one respectively. Independent Michael Moore retained his seat in Molonglo after the Democrat vote fell sharply from the 10% shown in some opinion polls during the campaign.
Despite the surface stability in party numbers, the Assembly will have five new MLAs. Liberal Brendan Smyth (immediately appointed a Minister) nearly obtained a quota of first preferences in Brindabella, while Labor's Jon Stanhope (now Leader of the Opposition), John Hargreaves, and Ted Quinlan (Deputy Leader) ousted incumbents. Green Lucy Horodny did not contest the election.
As Labor's Left lost parliamentary control after a long period of factional dominance, campaign leader Wayne Berry continually lashed out at the Hare-Clark system, demanding party boxes so that affirmative-action programs would put more women into the Assembly (only two were successful in 1998, compared with five in 1995). While party boxes are inconsistent with the Hare-Clark principles entrenched in 1995, some observers wryly noted that ALP representation after this election would have fallen to four or five under Senate-style arrangements.
Higher percentages of voters picked and chose deliberately among candidates: typically 20-25% of next available preferences from lesser-supported candidates of smaller parties were outside that column. Only about half of those voting for the leading Democrat candidates continued to other columns: the percentage going next to the ACT Greens fell from 40% to 25% in the absence of the 1995 recommendation by both parties that supporters place the other next in their numbering of preferences. That high rate of vote exhaustion might prompt parties to think about how many candidates to endorse in each electorate to maximize political effect.
When Labor and Liberal candidates with relatively few votes were excluded, there was still a notable advantage to the colleague closest below when those excluded appeared at the top of the column: this was influential in Brindabella in the 45-vote defeat of Louise Littlewood by Liberal colleague Trevor Kaine (who subsequently left the party and sought to register the name Canberra Liberals) and in the ouster of short-lived former ALP leader Andrew Whitecross by John Hargreaves. Liberal candidates Vicki Dunne and Jacqui Burke were both unsuccessful by several hundred votes in circumstances where the combined party-column vote from two exclusions was shared quite evenly with the last of their colleagues to be elected.
The scrutinies in Brindabella and Ginninderra were both concluded within 3 days of the striking of the quotas following expiry of the statutory 5-day wait for postal votes (during which declaration votes are also processed).In Molonglo, fewer than 400 votes initially separated five of the ALP candidates, and their progress totals remained close together throughout the scrutiny. Towards the end of the scrutiny, Steve Garth was 3 votes ahead of Marion Reilly, ready to be propelled past Simon Corbell on her exclusion to take the second ALP position: this margin was adjusted to 5 votes when checking revealed over 100 miss-sorted ballot-papers.
However, a full recount granted at Ms Reilly's request placed her 3 votes in front of Dr Garth. After his exclusion she remained 23 votes behind Ted Quinlan and 87 behind Simon Corbell. Over a week earlier, Mr Corbell had conceded defeat, attacking the 'trench warfare' of the ALP's factional system over the previous six to ten years, and calling the Hare-Clark system 'absurd' for his likely failure despite starting with the most first preferences in his team.
The closeness of several scrutinies and the near-misses of several female candidates might be reflected in greater attention to individual marking of preferences on the third Saturday in October 2001 (the January-February election period created problems for parties and electoral officials). A committee of the fourth Assembly is expected to closely examine various aspects of electoral arrangements: this process should strengthen the ACT's position at the forefront of world best practice.
© 1998 Proportional Representation Society of
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