QUOTA

NOTES

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

QN2001D              
        
       

 

December 2001

 

                www.prsa.org.au

Victoria-Tasmania Branch Submission Received by Constitution Commission 

The Constitution Commission Victoria received a substantial written submission from the PRSA's Victoria-Tasmania Branch in late November 2001, following the review by the Branch's 2001 Annual General Meeting of a draft submission prepared by a PRSAV-T Committee chaired by the Branch's President, Dr Lee Naish. 

After the close of submissions the Web site of the Commission displayed many separate submissions, nearly all of them being in favour of some form of proportional representation being used for Upper House elections. The submissions were mainly from individuals, some of whom are well known for their contributions to political life in Victoria. Submissions in favour of PR included those of a former Liberal Premier, Sir Rupert Hamer, and Hon. Rod McKenzie, who was a former ALP Minister, and later the President of the Legislative Council - first as an ALP MLC and then, on leaving the party, a member of that rare breed in Victoria - an Independent MLC. 

Other notable pro-PR contributors included the Clerk of the Senate, the Clerk of the NSW Legislative Council, the Labor Party, the Australian Democrats, the Greens, the Victorian Trades Hall Council, the ACTU, and Professor Joan Rydon. The only prominent submissions that opposed PR were from Victoria's Parliamentary Liberal Party, and from the Victorian National Party, the latter stated to have been written by Hon. Bill Baxter MLC, a former Kennett Government Minister and former leader of the Nationals in the Legislative Council. 

 

Neil Robson Promotes Hare-Clark in Victoria

At the conclusion of the last of the three Melbourne seminars that the Constitution Commission Victoria held with distinguished speakers putting forward various points of view about the Commission's task, the PRSA's National Vice-President, Geoffrey Goode, approached each of the Commissioners and asked whether they would be willing to receive Hon. Neil Robson, the instigator of Robson Rotation, and a former Tasmanian Minister, who also overhauled Tasmania's electoral legislation through the still current Electoral Act 1985, for discussions with him on Hare-Clark and Robson Rotation, if the PRSA were to bring him to Melbourne. The Commissioners said that it would be very helpful to them to have such discussions with Mr Robson, and welcomed the PRSA's suggestion. 

Accordingly the three Commissioners met Mr Robson, together with Mr Goode, on 26th November 2001, and very thorough and satisfactory discussions took place. They showed a great deal of interest in Mr Robson's legislative and ministerial experience in Tasmania with the Hare-Clark system, and its most recent refinement, Robson Rotation, and in his successful advocacy of those electoral arrangements for the A.C.T. Assembly - asking him a range of pertinent and penetrating questions. 

On the following day Mr Robson and Mr Goode attended one of three public consultation meetings in metropolitan Melbourne that followed earlier such meetings in rural and regional Victoria. They were interested to be among the members of the public present, and see, and participate in, the discussions and questions the public initiated there. 

The Victoria-Tasmania Branch of the PRSA also held a Public Meeting in Melbourne on the evening of 26th November 2001, to enable PRSA members and others to meet and hear Mr Robson. He spoke on all aspects of his extensive experience in Tasmanian electoral reform, and as an advocate for Hare-Clark in the A.C.T, just before the 1992 plebiscite there that convincingly chose Hare-Clark over the single-member electorate alternative. 

He certainly enlightened many of the non-members present, particularly when, to provide examples of how certain key features of Hare-Clark work, he drew on his background of having on many occasions successfully campaigned for election under Hare-Clark, and having championed it before the people of Tasmania on occasions when certain detractors argued against it. 

The PRSAV-T was pleased that Hon. Bill Baxter MLC, the author of the Victorian National Party submission on the Constitution Commission Web site, attended. He asked Mr Robson several pointed and thoughtful questions. 

 

ACT Government Changes: Female Success

Under Jon Stanhope’s leadership, a 14% increase in Labor’s first preferences to just under 42% on 20th October 2001 brought it to within a whisker of securing a majority in the ACT Legislative Assembly, and saw it return to government for the first time since 1995. Never before under self-government had both of the two contenders for the position of Chief Minister been male, Liberal Gary Humphries having taken over from Kate Carnell in October 2000 after she lost the confidence of Independents Dave Rugendyke and Paul Osborne. 

Many observers attached great campaign significance to the circumstances in which former Canberra Raiders and Australian rugby league captain Mal Meninga decided not to nominate for the central seat of Molonglo. Having floated the possibility in February, and with the media primed for his candidacy announcement amid other planned public engagements two days before the close of nominations, Mr Meninga was asked on ABC radio why he was seeking to enter politics. 

He gave a lengthy description of his background, and then slowed down, saying, "I was ... I’m buggered. I’m sorry." and then "I have to resign." He returned to the studio soon afterwards to explain his change of mind, remarking on the pressure that he was feeling, "When I started talking about myself then, and started to say or try to convince myself that, you know, politics was the way for me to go - But to be honest with you, this is not what I want to do." 

The campaign of former team-mate and Brindabella Independent Paul Osborne, who strongly encouraged Mr Meninga’s candidacy, never seemed to get off the ground after that, leaving him somewhat unexpectedly as one of the five defeated incumbents (another Independent, Health Minister Michael Moore, decided not to stand again). 

With smaller parties nominating between two and four candidates rather than as many as the number of vacancies, the number of candidates declined from 108 in 1998 to 94. There were 40 females just as in 1998, this time including a bare majority of the 41 candidates in Molonglo. 

Enrolments had risen by over 13,000 or 6.5% since the election of February 1998. Turnout fell slightly to 91%. With optional preferential voting applying in practice, the largely deliberate informal voting rate dropped slightly to 4.0%. It was least in the 7-member Molonglo electorate. 

The election of only two females in 1998 continued to prompt discussion. The Chief Minister, Gary Humphries, urged voters to consider giving their first preference to a woman. Sections of the Labor Party continued to claim that Hare-Clark was inherently unfair to women. When visiting to promote Emily’s List of female ALP candidates, former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner was reported as questioning whether the "amazing" Hare-Clark system had an inbuilt bias against women through the advantages of incumbency, and advocating limited expression of preferences as a counter-strategy. 

ACT Branch Convenor Bogey Musidlak and others wrote in response that such sentiments appeared to betray a misunderstanding of preferential voting. In an editorial, The Canberra Times said women were temporarily under-represented owing to "fluke circumstances", but they were not under any systemic disadvantage: "In fact, the Hare-Clark system provides a much better opportunity for women to break through old-boy and factional networks in traditional party structures. Under single member systems, such as in the House of Representatives, or proportional systems with party-line tickets, such as in the Senate, candidates have to get preselected into winnable electorates or winnable positions on a Senate ticket. To do this, they have to get the nod from the party machine, which is often male-dominated." 

Under Hare-Clark, "each female candidate appears at the top of the party's column in an equal number of ballot papers as a male candidate. So it is always possible for a committed Labor voter to vote for a female Labor candidate. Similarly for the Liberals or any other party. The fate of female candidates is in the hands of voters not in the hands of the often male-dominated party machines. So it is up to those who seek a better gender balance to appeal to the public." 

Six women were elected in 2001, including two newcomers from each of the Liberal (in place of one male and one female incumbent Liberal) and Labor parties (replacing two Independents) and the first-ever Australian Democrat in the Assembly, 23-year-old Roslyn Dundas. The ACT Greens MLA, Kerrie Tucker, was comfortably re-elected for a third term in Molonglo. 

Of the 94 candidates, 52 (including 5 Greens, 4 Democrats and 3 Liberals) lost their deposit, by failing to gain one-fifth of a quota at the point of exclusion. Only the ALP (24.5% in Ginninderra) and Liberal (20.2% in Molonglo) leaders gained more than a quota of first preferences. Six others elected gained more than 10% of first preferences. 

The table below shows the close matches between votes and seats, the higher Democrat and Greens support among those voting electronically (see QN2001B), and overall changes from the 1998 polls. The informal vote of those voting electronically was negligible. Because their base level of support guaranteed continuing candidates at the end of scrutinies, the Labor (8) and Liberal (7) parties emerged with nearly 90% of the 17 seats even though their combined first preference support was below 75%. A 1% swing from the Liberals to Labor in Ginninderra and Molonglo could have resulted in 10 Labor MLAs (a majority in each electorate) and five Liberals. 

 

Party

 

Brindabella

(5seats)

Ginninderra

(5seats)

Molonglo

(7seats)

ACT

(17 seats)

ACT change

from 1998

ALP

Vote %
(electronic)

44.0

(42.3)

42.8

(38.2)

39.3

(34.8)

41.7

(38.2)

+14.1

 

Seat %

60

40

42.9

47.1

+11.8

 

Seats

3

2

3

8

+2

Liberal

Vote %
(electronic)

31.9

(31.3)

27.9

(26.4)

34.1

(33.6)

31.6

(30.7)

-6.2

 

Seat %

40

40

42.9

41.2

-

 

Seats

2

2

3

7

-

ACT Greens

Vote %
(electronic)

5.4

(6.9)

7.9

(10.2)

12.6

(13.2)

9.1

(10.3)

-

 

Seat %

-

-

14.3

5.9

-

 

Seats

-

-

1

1

-

Australian Democrats

Vote %
(electronic)

7.0

(8.5)

9.7

(13.6)

7.6

(11.4)

8.0

(11.2)

+2.1

 

Seat %

-

20

-

5.9

+5.9

 

Seats

-

1

-

1

+1

Other

Vote %
(electronic)

11.8

(11.0)

11.6

(11.6)

6.4

(6.9)

9.5

(9.6)

-10.0

 

Seat %

-

-

-

-

-17.6

 

Seats

-

-

-

-

-3

Total

Candidates

27

26

41

94

-14

 

Lost Deposit

15

13

24

52

-13

 

The additional rotations (see QN2001B) succeeded in removing the noticeable advantage previously flowing to individuals from party-linear voting in certain circumstances. Hence it is likely that this refinement of Robson Rotation will now become a settled feature of the ACT’s Hare-Clark system. 

Despite the closeness of several outcomes, experienced observers were able to make a fairly accurate assessment of likely party numbers on election night. However, those who placed excessive reliance on the interim distributions from the electronic voting greatly over-estimated the likely Democrat and Green MLAs. Sections of the media failed to understand that where small numbers of votes were to determine the final order of exclusion, interim distributions provided no reliable information about the candidates likely to be elected at the end of scrutinies. 

ALP Secretary Michael Kerrisk stated that while "there needs to be balance between confidentiality and openness", there was a good case for not issuing preference updates as new interim outcomes - bumping candidates in and out of the race on a daily basis. The PRSA’s ACT Branch had also expressed concern about the consequences of the media misunderstanding interim preference distributions, suggesting that as new batches of votes were entered after validation through double keying, summary information of further preferences be made available rather than full interim scrutiny particulars. 

With five working days allowed for the receipt of postal votes, the quotas can only be struck at the end of the first week. After over 170,000 paper-based votes had been keyed electronically, all scrutinies were finished on the second Thursday after polling and the polls were declared on Monday 5th November 2001. 

The ACT Greens briefly contemplated seeking a recount in Ginninderra after they fell 48 votes short of the Australian Democrats. Liberal incumbent Harold Hird, defeated by colleague and prominent Hare-Clark campaigner Vicki Dunne by 55 votes, initially threatened taking legal action when his requests for a recount were denied. 

The southern Brindabella seat’s outcome was relatively clearcut from the outset, both as to party numbers (Labor secured a majority of seats from 44.0% of first preferences) and actual successful candidates. While interim distributions in Molonglo showed extensive variation, 312 votes separated the last two continuing ALP candidates, and the last two candidates to be elected, both Liberals, fell short of the quota by 235 and 850 votes respectively, after very high proportions of votes for the last Democrat and Labor candidates became exhausted. 

Prior to the first sitting of the new Assembly, Mr Stanhope announced a four-man ALP Ministry. Former Labor leader Wayne Berry was subsequently elected unopposed as Speaker. On the initiative of the ACT Greens, the Assembly has referred to its Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, for inquiry and report by the last sitting day in June 2002, the appropriateness of its current size and options for changing the number of members, electorates and any other related matter. The Chief Minister has been requested to discuss the possibility of Commonwealth amendments to devolve to the Assembly the power to determine its numbers with the aim of commencing any change at the election scheduled for October 2004. 

 

Report from the Western Australian Branch 

The Electoral Reform Society of WA (ERSWA) met to re-energize its members with an Annual General Meeting held on 12th February 2001. With a change of government in the west, electoral reform is back on the agenda, and the branch has now met more frequently this year. Its new Vice-President, Malcolm Mummery, has been actively contacting political parties and the media to emphasize its support for reform as recommended by the report of the Commission on Government of the mid 1990s. The then Court government promised some reforms, but sat on its hands for the remainder of its term of office. 

It would seem that electorates with equal number of voters for the Legislative Assembly (four genuinely large and remote areas would retain a weighting) has a fair chance of success with the Greens holding the balance of power in the upper house. However, success may come at a cost with the Greens insisting on retaining vote weighting in the Legislative Council and increasing the number of MLCs from 34 to 36. They propose that six MLCs be elected from each of the existing six regions. The report by the Commission on Government recommended five regions with a tolerance of plus or minus 15% each returning seven members, which the WA branch supports, and which avoids the known disadvantage of having an even number of members elected as a group. 

ERSWA's Secretary, Norm Cox, also reports that the regressive move that had preferential counting replaced by first-past-the-post counting at Western Australia's municipal polls has continued to produce anomalous results - as would be expected. He instanced the recent result of the election for Mayor of Fremantle, where the votes cast were: 

P. Taglaferri 2,511; M. Slaven 2,000; R. Utting 1,586 

The defeated incumbent, R. Utting, is reported as having questioned whether the result would have differed under a preferential system. It could not have helped his re-election of course, but it might well have changed the result. The winner polled just less than 42% of the vote, leaving more than 58% of voters preferring another candidate. In such a poll, provision should be made for the possibility that over 50% of voters might have preferred M. Slaven to P. Taglaferri, which was the real and ultimate choice voters were denied. That provision is necessary because it is not completely evident who the excluded candidate will be until the scrutiny of the ballots, and by then it is too late if voters have not been asked to record their preferences. 

  

 Book Review: Elections - Full, Free & Fair 

This book, edited by Professor Marian Sawer of the Australian National University, is reviewed here by the PRSA National Secretary, Deane Crabb. It is published by The Federation Press, 2001, pp xv +256, ISBN 1 86287 395 X, $38-50. 

Having attended the Australian Historical Association Conference 2000 in Adelaide in July, I had been eagerly awaiting the release of this book. At the Conference, there were three sessions on the Reshaping of Australian Institutions project. It was from that project that Elections - Full, Free & Fair evolved. The Conference gave the opportunity to showcase about half the chapters in the book. It also whetted my appetite. 

As a long time supporter of Hare-Clark, I had been particularly interested at the Conference when Marian Sawer told me that there would be a chapter on Hare-Clark. So when I received my review copy of Elections - Full, Free & Fair, I naturally turned first to Judith Homeshaw’s chapter "Inventing Hare-Clark: The model arithmetocracy". This chapter gives an excellent historical background to how Tasmania adopted Hare-Clark in 1897, and how this electoral method has developed since, including the introduction of the Robson Rotation, and the adoption of Hare-Clark for the Australian Capital Territory Assembly elections. Unfortunately, the chapter does not explore the possible introduction of Hare-Clark elsewhere in Australia, instead describing it as "complicated", "esoteric" and "exasperating". Given the title of the book, it is surprising that the editor did not ask this contributor to emphasize that Hare-Clark provides for "Fair Elections". 

Elections - Full, Free & Fair will interest those wanting to know how Australia’s electoral systems have evolved. Australia has been at the forefront with innovations like the secret ballot, votes for women, preferential voting, an independent administration of elections, and compulsory voting. There are chapters on all those aspects. Marian Sawer’s introductory chapter "Pacemakers for the world?" is an excellent overview and one of the highlights of the book. Later chapters provide more in-depth background on specific aspects. "Rights without seats: The puzzle of women’s legislative recruitment" by Diane Sainsbury and "Preferential voting and its political consequences" by Ben Reilly are worth reading, but Lisa Hill’s "A great leveller: Compulsory voting" will disappoint supporters of voluntary voting. 

Another highlight of the book is the assessment of "Australian democracy in comparative perspective" by Arend Lijphart, a world authority on electoral matters, from California. Based on his analysis, using a two-dimensional conceptual map of democracy, Australia has an "uncommon form of democracy". One of the reasons for this is the use of proportional representation for the election of the Senate. Arend Lijphart finds this "unique because it means that the upper house is elected by a more proportional method than the lower house". 

The final chapters "Confidence in Australian democracy" by Pippa Norris and "Political parties, partisanship and electoral governance" by James Jupp and Marian Sawer look to more current and future issues such as general confidence in Australia’s democratic system, political parties and their accountability, and the pre-selection of candidates, about which much more will no doubt eventually be written. 

In summary, while I enjoyed this book, it was also very frustrating, with some chapters much better than others, but for those interested in elections, and how Australia’s electoral systems have developed, it is worthwhile reading. 

  

National Office-bearers for 2002-03

The Returning Officer for the recent elections of PRSA National Office-bearers, Mr Norm Cox, has declared the candidates below elected unopposed for the term 1st January 2002 to 31st December 2003, as:

National President:             Mr Bogey Musidlak
National Vice-President:     Mr Geoffrey Goode
National Secretary:             Mr Deane Crabb
National Treasurer:             Mr Robert Forster

 

© 2001 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Cr. NARRABUNDAH 2604

National Secretary: Deane Crabb 11 Yapinga St. SOUTH PLYMPTON 5038
Tel: (08) 8297 6441, (02) 6295 8137   quota@prsa.org.au
Printed by Prestige Copying & Printing, 97 Pirie Street ADELAIDE SA 5000