QUOTA    NOTES

 

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

QN2004C                    September 2004                www.prsa.org.au

 



Draft Bill for new Tasmanian Electoral Act

 

The Tasmanian Electoral Office has assisted with the drafting of a bill for a new consolidated act to replace Tasmania’s Electoral Act 1985. That Act was the first consolidation of Tasmania’s electoral legislation since the Tasmanian Electoral Act 1907, which first introduced the Hare-Clark electoral system for the whole of Tasmania.

 

Submissions on the draft were made by the Proportional Representation Society of Australia and by its Victoria-Tasmania Branch. Our submissions welcomed the essential intention for the new bill that it would simplify language and procedure, and allow certain flexibility and responsiveness by electoral authorities in conducting Hare-Clark elections. The bill would, in line with usage in certain other States and the Commonwealth, replace the Electoral Office with a Tasmanian Electoral Commission.

 

The PRSA submission said that the experience of the ACT has been cited in support of the sensible move to combine all papers of the same value, and to deal with them in descending order when a candidate is excluded.

 

The PRSA said that the ACT’s procedures are driven by a consistent desire to minimize levels of unnecessary informality or exhaustion of votes. When the Hare-Clark option was put to the people and preferred by nearly two-thirds of them in 1992, the official material sent to electors said that the ballot-paper would request that at least as many preferences be filled in as there are vacancies. It said nothing specific about the consequence of not complying.

 

The ACT’s approach has been to accept votes as formal provided that they have a single first preference. Although that results in more exhausted votes when some candidates are excluded, the principle is that voters are being listened to closely rather than dictated to, and there has been no complaint about levels of exhausted votes.

 

The Proportional Representation Society of Australia recognized that Tasmania consciously increased the requirements for a formal Assembly vote from three preferences to the number of vacancies at least, and is unlikely to head in the opposite direction in the near future. Nevertheless, it would be possible to include votes with at least five numbers marked, but an unintentional or deliberate error before or at the fifth preference. Such savings provisions exist in Schedule 6 to the NSW Constitution Act 1902 for instance, and have not led to disquiet even though they clearly allow determined voters to express only a handful or fewer of real preferences.

 

The ACT’s electoral legislation follows the PRSA’s Proportional Representation Manual and the guidance of the Electoral Reform Society of Great Britain and Ireland in seeking to minimize exhaustion as much as possible when a surplus is transferred. This is done by defining the transfer value with a different divisor from that used in Tasmania, namely the number of transferable ballot-papers in the last parcel received rather than the total number of papers in the parcel (with of course a proviso that that transfer value must never rise). In other words, efforts are made to place any unused value of non-transferable papers within the quota of an elected candidate, and, to the extent possible, share out the surplus among only those papers that have a next available preference.

 

Sometimes an elected candidate can unavoidably be left with more than a quota of votes, when the rule that a transfer value not increase is invoked. The PRSA commended the ACT’s approach to defining the transfer value for the consideration of the Tasmanian Parliament as it enhances the respect paid to individual voters’ wishes.

 

The PRSA noted that the language surrounding the filling of casual vacancies when a candidate is declared elected without necessarily receiving a quota has been expanded since the long-established procedures were nearly the subject of litigation in 1990. The ACT legislation in relation to countback specifies that where a candidate is elected in these circumstances, the value at which top-up papers will be considered is established at the time of the general election. This is entirely straightforward because all the ballot-papers are now entered electronically for counting in the ACT. There is much benefit in incorporating this into Tasmanian practice regardless of whether steps are taken in the direction of electronic entry and counting of votes.

 

The PRSA said it regards Hare-Clark as a democratic treasure, and would happily elaborate on anything that might improve it further. It also offered to advise in future on technical aspects if there were thought of considering more than just the parcel of votes taking an elected candidate up to or beyond the quota when distributing a surplus (interestingly, there are provisions before the Western Australian Parliament to replace the current defective Senate procedure with one free of anomalies), or of reducing the quota as ballot-papers become non-transferable and votes are unavoidably exhausted. Points in the submission were subsequently discussed with the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr Bruce Taylor

 

The Victoria-Tasmania Branch accepted the proposed removal of certain forms and procedures from the Act with their details in future to be decided administratively, but said that a requirement for the form or procedure currently in force to be publicly accessible by a public advertisement or Web page or both was needed, as such details certainly had operational importance, and were also useful to those seeking to learn more about the way Hare-Clark worked.

 

 

Multi-member Electorate Symposium – Towards a Fairer Voting System for SA

 

A number of priorities for parliamentary reform were identified at last year’s Constitutional Convention held in South Australia (QN2003C). Since then, SA’s Speaker, Hon Peter Lewis MHA, an Independent, has organized bills for optional preferential voting, citizen-initiated referendums and four-year Upper House terms. Those bills have been tabled, but have not yet been debated.

 

Multi-member electorates was one of the priorities identified at the Convention, but it has been ignored so far. Greens MHA Kris Hanna therefore decided to organize a Multi-member Electorate Symposium, held on 4th July 2004 at Old Parliament House. Over 50 people attended.

 

Mr Hanna, a lawyer, who had resigned from the Labor Party and joined the Greens Party a year into his current term, opened the Symposium, explaining why South Australia needs proportional representation (PR). He said that “the current system of preferential voting in single-member electorates has limitations in that no one single person is likely to represent our views on every issue and most of us find that our choice of MP is not elected, denying us the representation we would prefer”. He said he believes that “proportional representation leads to voters more satisfied with the democratic nature of their government, less cynical, more sophisticated, better politically educated, and feeling more included in the government of their country”.

 

The keynote speaker was Deane Crabb, Secretary of the PRSA’s South Australian Branch, the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia, who explained how proportional representation works, and why it is more democratic. He used Thomas Hill’s 1820 schoolboy election model to show in simple terms how the principle of quota-preferential PR works. Deane contrasted the results of SA’s House of Assembly polls (preferential voting in single-member electorates) with its Legislative Council polls (quota-preferential PR with the entire State as one 11-member electorate). He showed what the result might have been if the Hare-Clark method of PR had been used to elect members of the House of Assembly – greater voter representation and with parties better represented in proportion to first preference votes received.

 

Dr Clement Macintyre, Head of the Politics Department at the University of Adelaide, then spoke about the experience of multi-member electorate systems in Australia and the implications for South Australia if adopted. He highlighted that, in South Australia with single-member electorates, as a result of the last 13 State elections there have been six minority governments elected. With single-member electorates, there is the problem of safe seats, which is leading to an increased number of people voting for independents and minor parties. He felt it is necessary to convince voters that the current system is flawed.

 

Two New Zealand Greens MPs then spoke about the New Zealand experience. This was a highlight of the Symposium. Firstly, Rod Donald MP spoke about proportional representation without multi-member electorates. Rod is Co-Leader of the New Zealand Greens, and was one of the leading campaigners in the Electoral Reform Coalition in New Zealand. He outlined the history of New Zealand’s change from first-past-the-post voting for all electorates to the current MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) system. As part of the campaign for that change, Rod acknowledged John Taplin, President of the PRSA’s Western Australian Branch, the Electoral Reform Society of WA Inc, who had visited New Zealand in 1987.

 

The New Zealand Royal Commission that had investigated electoral systems had outlined ten criteria necessary for New Zealand – effective voter participation, fairness between parties, effective Maori representation, effective representation of minorities and special interest groups, effective representation of constituents, political integration, effective government, effective parliament, more effective parties and legitimacy. Mr Donald rated the impact of MMP against these criteria, and he found that after three elections using MMP, both parliament and government have become more effective. (A full copy of his paper is available on request to Deane Crabb.)

 

The second NZ Greens MP, Metiria Turei, a young Maori woman, outlined the significance of proportional representation for women and indigenous people. She pointed out that there are now eight Maori women in the New Zealand Parliament. There are seven dedicated Maori electorates, but with MMP there is now 16% Maori representation in Parliament, which is greater than the percentage of Maori in the population. Ms Turei said that Parliamentary representation is only the start of trying to get more involvement for women and indigenous people.

 

A panel consisting of Hon Peter Lewis MHA (Speaker, and an Independent MP); Hon Sandra Kanck MLC (Australian Democrat Leader in the Legislative Council); Hon Robert Lawson QC, MLC (Liberal Deputy Leader in the Legislative Council, and Shadow Attorney-General); and Kris Hanna MHA (Greens) then held a discussion. Each panellist briefly outlined his or her opinion of multi-member electorates. Mr Lewis pointed out that at the last State election in South Australia, one in three voters did not vote for major parties, and that PR is needed for both Houses. Ms Kanck said that PR ensured the principle of genuine fairness, but if a change is to be achieved, it is necessary to overcome differences on what type of PR should be adopted. Mr Lawson raised the issue of how the Executive could be controlled by Parliament, and the role of Parliamentary Committees. Mr Hanna outlined three principles important in an electoral system, plurality of voices, stability and connection with the electorate, and he believed that multi-member electorates in the House of Assembly could give effect to those principles.

 

Glynn Evans, a University of Adelaide postgraduate student involved in modelling elections, showed what the election results might have been if Tasmania’s Hare-Clark method had been used. One option he put was for South Australia’s eleven House of Representative divisions to be made into multi-member electorates returning five members from each Federal electorate to the State Parliament.

 

That arrangement would be similar to Tasmania’s use, since 1907, of federal divisions as State multi-member electorates, although SA would need to accept that a federal redistribution could unilaterally change the number of MHAs to be elected. Tasmania has never had to change that as it has never had more than an original State’s minimum of five MHRs. Its long-standing small share of Australia’s population should keep that status indefinitely.

 

Finally there was a general question and answer session to the panel of MPs. This included a discussion on whether stability was important, with many feeling that coalitions can give more stability than one-party governments. On the issue of the way forward, as there had already been the Constitutional Convention, there was debate firstly on the need for a change. Mr Lawson said that the community is not showing the need for change. Debate on how to achieve change led to both a Royal Commission and a Parliamentary Select Committee being suggested. Mr Hanna said, in ending the Symposium, that he thought that a Select Committee could be the next step.

 

The PRSA prefers quota-preferential PR over MMP because it minimises vote wastage and gives voters an opportunity to choose between individual candidates, rather than only between lists of party candidates predetermined by the parties. All MPs are elected on the same footing, none under the defective single-member electorates that provide a majority of New Zealand’s MPs.

 

 

The Launching of Neil Robson’s Booklet at Parliament House, Hobart

 

On 23rd March 2004 the former Tasmanian Government Minister, and MHA for Bass, Hon Neil Robson, launched the booklet Everybody Counts at Parliament House, Hobart. The booklet, written in simple language, is particularly suitable for those with a beginner’s interest in electoral systems, or as a resource for high school students. Most of the 2,000 copies printed were sent to schools, councils, service organizations and libraries. The PRSA President can supply a few, but make requests for more than that to the Speaker, Parliament House, Hobart 7000.

 

The master of ceremonies at the launching was David Crean, former Treasurer of Tasmania and one-time son-in-law of Neil, who did not recontest his Legislative Council seat of Elwick in May 2004 after being diagnosed with a kidney ailment. Neil was the keynote speaker. The Hon Donald Wing, President of the Legislative Council, moved a vote of thanks. About sixty people attended by invitation.

 

Neil Robson has always been interested in electoral systems. In 1979 he succeeded in having a significant Private Member’s Bill he had instigated passed by Tasmania’s Parliament. The amendment to Tasmania’s Electoral Act 1907 that resulted now requires that the system he proposed, which has become known as Robson Rotation, is used in all elections for Tasmania’s House of Assembly and its Legislative Council. It has since been extended to elections of municipal councillors.

 

Robson Rotation is the rotation of candidates’ names in prescribed positions in the various columns of names on ballot-papers so that no candidate benefits overall from his or her position on the ballot-paper. It has also become a feature of the electoral system for the Australian Capital Territory’s Legislative Assembly, where, now in a refined form with additional ballot-paper variations, it is an entrenched feature of the Hare-Clark system.

 

 

The Death of Two Former Tasmanian Premiers

 

On 23rd February 2004, ten days after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, Tasmania’s Premier Jim Bacon said that he would take a month’s leave of absence to allow a smooth transition for his successor, Paul Lennon, and that he would then retire from the Assembly.
 
"I have been a smoker for 35 years and I reckon for all of that time my doctors and friends have tried to advise me to give up smoking - I have been an idiot, I have not listened," he said. "I have kept smoking and I now accept that in large part I am paying the price."
 
Having been State Secretary of the Builders’ Labourers Federation and then Secretary of the Trades and Labour Council since 1989, Mr Bacon entered the Parliament as a member for Denison in February 1996, replaced Michael Field as Leader of the Opposition in April 1997 and led Labor to victory in September 1998. He had prevailed over the minority Liberal Government and the Tasmanian Greens with a plan to reduce the size of the Assembly to 25 (in five five-member electorates) and that of the Legislative Council to 15 (see QN1998C).
 
Elected on first preference votes in 1996 and with just under two quotas in 1998, he increased that support to 21,391 first preference votes in 2002, the third highest number of votes polled in any seat in the history of the State. The Liberal Party lost both its Leader and Deputy in a major debacle, and was outpolled by the Greens in Denison (see QN2002 C). Mr Bacon’s optimism was seen as a significant factor in helping to turn around a debt-ridden economy and people’s perceptions of Tasmania.
 
His opening Assembly speech, after introduction of the Prohibited Guns Order 1996 following the Port Arthur massacre, included a comment on successful campaigning, “I think that it is most important in Hare-Clark campaigning to have individuals speaking on your behalf in the community.” It ended, “I believe I come here on friendly terms with the vast majority of people here, whether they be workers, journalists or members of the House and I would just like to say that when I finish and I finally leave here that I hope it is on the same basis.”
 
After Mr Bacon resigned on 21st March, five unelected candidates consented to participate in the countback to determine his replacement. David Bartlett, one of the two ALP consenting candidates, gained an absolute majority from the first preferences (52.2%) in the recount held on 1st April. Mr Bacon died on 20th June 2004, aged 54.

 

Paul Lennon entered the House of Assembly on 16th October 1990, after the resignation of Ken Wriedt, a former Commonwealth Minister and State Opposition Leader, who, along with two other Labor MHAs, had been elected when Mr Lennon was excluded the previous year. Terry Newman points out in his book Hare-Clark in Tasmania: Representation of All Opinions that the Solicitor-General provided a legal opinion confirming that under the legislation as it then stood (but contrary to earlier practice), Mr Lennon was entitled to regain his votes at full value rather than the fractional value sufficient to bring Mr Wriedt up to a quota. This was decisive in his victory over fellow Labor candidate Tony Reidy. The wording of the legislation has subsequently been overhauled to make it clear that only a quota of votes for the vacating candidate (or ultimate predecessor at the general election) should be considered when a casual vacancy is to be filled.

Tasmania's first Liberal premier, Sir (Walter) Angus Bethune, who formed a coalition with the Centre Party's Kevin Lyons from 1969 to 1972, died in Hobart in August 2004 at the age of 95, after a short illness. Sir Angus was the member for the rural electorate of Wilmot, which has become Lyons, from 1946 until his resignation in 1975.

 

The Unelected Senators Stay till 30th June

 

The last report on unelected senators (QN1997D) listed a record number of fifteen unelected senators, almost 20% of the Senate. The present Senate contains six senators – one twelfth of the State representation - that were never elected at Senate polls, yet they are all able to sit in the Senate unelected for a longer term than any MHR, all 150 of whom are required to be directly elected by the people.

 

The list below shows the unelected senators that can remain in office until 30th June 2005, except for those two asterisked*, who can remain until 30th June 2008.

 

Vacating

Senator

(Elected

by the

People)

Replacement

Senator

(Unelected

by the

People)

State

Party

Date Sworn

in as a

Senator

(Unelected

by the

People)

Years

Able

to Sit in the

Senate

Unelected

J.Herron

S.Santoro*

Qld.

Lib.

11NOV2002

5.6

W.Parer

G.Brandis

Qld.

Lib.

05JUN2000

5.1

J.Quirke

G.Buckland

SA

ALP

03OCT2000

4.7

R.Alston

M.Fifield*

Vic.

Lib.

01APR2004

4.2

J.Woodley

J.Cherry

Qld.

AD

06AUG2001

3.9

B.Gibson

G.Barnett

Tas.

Lib.

11MAR2002

3.3


This anomaly of senators having to be directly elected by the people (Section 7 of the Constitution), yet those filling casual vacancies not being directly elected (Section 15, altered in 1977), needs to be eliminated.

 

 

© 2004 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Cr. NARRABUNDAH 2604

National Secretary: Dr Stephen Morey 4 Sims Street SANDRINGHAM 3191

Tel: (02) 6295 8137, (03) 9598 1122 info@prsa.org.au

Printed by Prestige Copying & Printing, 97 Pirie Street ADELAIDE SA 5000