Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia



QN60              December 1990             www.prsa.org.au












EARC Report Gives Few PR Crumbs


Queensland's Electoral and Administrative Review Commission (EARC) issued its Report on the Queensland Legislative Assembly Electoral System last month. The fourth of its twelve chapters was entitled "Voting Methods", and ended with a single-sentence recommendation, "The Commission recommends that the current voting system based on single-member electoral districts for the Legislative Assembly should be maintained."

Submissions in favour of PR quoted in the Report included those from Queensland Senator Kernot of the Australian Democrats, former Senator Michael Macklin, The Wilderness Society, Tasmanian MHA Bob Brown, and, of course, the PR Society.

Submissions opposing PR were made by the ALP, the Liberal Party, the National Party, an individual Catholic parish, Mr S. Bredhauer MLA and various citizens. 

Explaining the decision, the Report stated, "The Commission readily concedes that single-member electoral district arrangements are not perfect but they are well established in Queensland and seem to be widely accepted. The case for PR was well argued and researched, particularly by the Proportional Representation Society. However, the Commission is not satisfied that, in the Queensland context, the adoption of PR would be more likely to achieve fairer electoral results than single-member electoral district arrangements based on equal suffrage." 

One pleasing observation the PR Society does agree with was, "It is generally agreed that multimember electoral districts with fewer than seven seats to be distributed do not achieve an acceptable level of proportionality, and indeed that below that number there is scope for considerable manipulation of outcomes and an inducement to gerrymandering, as the experience of Ireland suggests. With an average enrolment of about 20,000 per Member (if the size of the Legislative Assembly were to remain much as it is at present that would require a multi-member district of approximately 140,000 electors, equal to two current House of Representatives divisions. Some witnesses supporting PR did recommend the combining of federal seats as a basis for representation." 

This admission of the problems inherent in having fewer than seven members per electorate should surely apply to the case where there is only one member per electorate. 

EARC's Report on the Local Authority Electoral System of Queensland appeared in September 1990. It recommended that: 

(a) the existing law relating to voting systems apply for the 1991 Local Government elections; 

(b) thereafter

(i) the voting system for Mayors and Chairmen be either first past the post where this is used for the election of members or optional preferential in all other cases; 

(ii) optional preferential voting for members in LAs which are divided into single-member divisions; 

(iii) first past the post voting for members in LAs with multiple member or mixed (that is both single- and multi-member divisions); 

(iv) proportional representation using the Hare Clark system for members in undivided LAs with electors being required to indicate at least as many preferences as there are vacancies to be filled;

(c) thereafter electors of an LA should be able to change to any one of the three voting systems referred to in paragraph (b) provided a majority of electors support such a change at a poll conducted at the initiation of the Council or following a petition from 10% of the electors. 

Point (iv) above could lead to PR being adopted for Local Government in Queensland for the first time. Many Councils there still use first past the post. The PRSA Queensland Branch intends to make submissions to the relevant Legislative Assembly Committees, which represent the next stage on the way to possible legislation for PR 


Submission Defending Robson Rotation


The PRSA has sent a submission to the Tasmanian Branch of the ALP following a resolution at a recent State Conference (See QN59) that referred a move to oppose Robson Rotation for report by the Party's Legal & Constitutional Committee.

The PRSA was advised to address its letter to the Secretary of that Committee, Mr John Green. Our case instanced the 1980 Denison By-election, which was the first time Robson Rotation was used, as an object lesson. The Tasmanian ALP decided for that election to issue a how-to-vote card for the Assembly, and thus became the first major party to do so. The 65 State Conference delegates decided the order on it, but Robson Rotation, which ensured that there was a randomized order of candidates' names in each party column on the ballot-paper, ensured that those voters that deliberately exercised a choice from among the candidates decided which would be elected. Details were:










John Green




Julian Amos




John Devine




Neil Batt




Norm Hanscombe




Bob Graham




Stan Joiner



The graph shows that the order in the number of first preference votes cast by the 18,871 ALP voters (87% of Denison's ALP voters) giving first preference to one of the four main candidates was in reverse order to that sought by the majority of the 65 State Conference delegates.



South Australia: A Milestone in the World's Electoral History


Our South Australian Branch held a special meeting in Adelaide on 28th September 1990 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the first public election in the world in which the principle of proportional representation was applied. The method was instigated by Rowland Hill, Secretary of the Colonization Commission, and later knighted for starting Britain's "Penny Post". The election, for the Adelaide City Council, was also Australia's first election for a public body.

The present Adelaide Council, which is also elected by PR, officially advised Deane Crabb, our SA Branch's Secretary, that the first election was conducted under Ordinance No. 4 of 1840 of the Governor-in-Council (Governor Gawler) entitled "An Act to Constitute a Municipal Corporation for the City of Adelaide". Sections IX, X and XI specified in detail the hitherto untested but primitive form of PR used, and provided for the common law method to fill any remaining vacancies. The electors could form groups or "quorums" to elect candidates. On 30th October 1840, two such quorums (of 31 voters each) assembled in King William Street, each quorum able to elect a candidate, provided it was unanimously in favour of its candidate. The election was also noted by the issue of a 1990 Australian postage stamp.

The ERSSA meeting, reported in next day's Advertiser, also marked the 60th Anniversary of the Electoral Reform Society of SA, as our SA Branch is known. A feature was the election, as an Honorary Life Member of the ERSSA, of Mr Len Higgs, the PRSA National Treasurer, who has been a member and Treasurer of the ERSSA since 1940. There were 3 Guest Speakers at the meeting.

The first, Dr Bob Catley, MHR for Adelaide, and an ALP member of the Federal Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, strongly defended single-member electorate systems, and called for the abolition of State Upper Houses, adoption of 4-year terms, and revision of Federal, State and Local Government relations.

The second speaker was Mr Martyn Evans, one of the two Independent Labor MHAs that hold the balance of power in the South Australian House of Assembly. He advocated three-member electorates for the Assembly using Hare-Clark, including Robson Rotation and filling casual vacancies by re-examining the quota of votes that elected the vacating MHA.

The third speaker, Mr Geoffrey Goode, the PRSA National President, outlined electoral advances from the UK's 1832 Reform Act (See P. 4) to Hare-Clark with Robson Rotation. He warned of the struggle to ensure that the quota-preferential system prevails over party list forms of proportional voting, and pointed out that PR meant not just "Proportional", but also "Representation". The PRSA considers that "Representation" means a system where voters each choose the person representing them, and not just a party, and where the poll is not "stage-managed".


SA's Single-minded Referendum


Earlier this year the SA House of Assembly established a Select Committee on Electoral Redistribution. The terms of reference were sufficiently wide to allow our SA Branch, several of its members, and others including Malcolm Mackerras and the Australian Democrats to make submissions calling for PR.

The Democrats' brief submission, presented by SA's Democrat Senator Meg Lees, called for, under the heading, "The Hare-Clark System", a "quota-preferential system similar to that which applies in Tasmania".

So far so good, but that word "similar" became worrying when the following question and answer were listed:

Q. Would multi-member electorates mean the end of safe seats? 

A. No. Obviously if you were to head the ticket (or in most cases be number two) in a multi-member electorate, your seat would be considered safe. What the proposal would do is to spread the marginals across most suburbs/towns, in stark contrast to the current practice of having an "electoral fault line" in which a handful of voters end up choosing the Government quite often on very specific local, not state, issues." 

That answer reveals that the ADs are not proposing Robson Rotation. The revelation of "the ticket" is an indication that a rigidly stage-managed Senate style ballot paper is envisaged. That gives proportionality in a party sense, but in practice it perpetuates the other major fault of single-member systems, namely that, in practice, voters have no choice of candidates within each party. As the AD case said nothing about filling casual vacancies, it is unclear whether they support the Tasmanian approach there or not. 

The Committee recommended that single-member electoral districts be retained, the Constitution be changed (requiring a referendum) to allow for a redistribution after every election, and in making a redistribution, the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission be required to take into account the so-called "two-party preferred vote". The Committee recommended a review after the next election of both quota-preferential PR and the German-style "top-up" system. 

As the Committee's Report provides most damning evidence against single-member electoral districts, it is surprising it is persisting with single-member electoral districts, and not offering voters the PR option. 

The PRSA's SA Branch considers such a curt referendum to be a waste of time and money, and has called for the referendum to be extended to let electors choose between electoral systems. A similar approach was recently recommended by the Commonwealth Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in regard to the electoral system for the ACT Assembly (See QN57).


Death of Founding Member of ERSSA


Miss Ellinor Walker OBE, who died this year at the age of 97, was a member of the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia from 1930 until her death.

She was the ERSSA Vice-President from 1976 to 1979. At the 50th anniversary meeting in 1980 she described the 1930 meeting that led to the formation of the Society. She regularly attended the Society's meetings, and was very much in the same mould as Catherine Helen Spence and Jeanne Young.


Victoria's Third PR Attempt


Last month the Victorian Government introduced a bill for a PR electoral system for the Legislative Council. Victoria now has the only bicameral Australian parliament without a PR system for one of its Houses. 

The Constitution (Proportional Representation) Bill 1990 embodied exactly the same PR provisions as the 1988 PR bill and its predecessor. All three have now been rejected by the Upper House, despite the Government's PR election "mandate". 

The PRSA's Victorian Branch naturally favours a PR system rather than the present majority-only system, but it was nevertheless unimpressed with the restrictive nature of the system in the bills. They each sought a Senate-style system, with casual vacancies filled by party nomination rather than direct election as in Tasmania or even from those next on the ballot-paper, as in NSW. Our Hare-Clark goal seems elusive.



© 2001 Proportional Representation Society of Australia


National President: Geoffrey Goode  18 Anita Street BEAUMARIS VIC 3193

National Secretary: John Alexander  5 Bray Street MOSMAN NSW 2088

Telephone: (03) 589 1802; (02) 960 2193

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(As described in Sir Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples)


In March 1831, Lord John Russell rose in the House of Commons to move the first Reform Bill. It was proposed to abolish over a hundred "rotten" and "pocket" boroughs and replace them with new constituencies for the unrepresented areas of the Metropolis, the industrial North, and the Midlands. To the Tories this was a violation of all they stood for, an affront to their deepest political convictions, a gross attack on the rights of property. A seat was a thing to be bought or sold like a house or an estate, and a more uniform franchise savoured of an arithmetical conception of politics dangerously akin to French democracy. Many Whigs, too, who had expected a milder measure were at first dumbfounded by the breadth of Russell's proposals. They soon rallied to the Government when they saw the enthusiasm of the country, for the Whigs believed that Reform would forestall revolution. The Tories, on the other hand, feared that it was the first step on the road to cataclysm. To them, and indeed to many Whigs, English government meant the rule, and the duty to rule, of the landed classes in the interests of the community. A wider franchise would mean the beginning of the end of the old system of administration by influence and patronage. Agitation spread throughout the country. In the House of Commons the Tories fought every inch of the way. The Government was by no means sure of its majority, and although a small block of Irish votes controlled by O'Connell, leader of the emancipated Catholics, was cast for Grey the Bill was defeated. A roar of hatred and disappointment swept the country. Grey asked the King for dissolution, and William IV had the sense to realize that a refusal might mean revolution. The news caused uproar in the Lords, where a motion was introduced asking the King to reconsider his decision, but as the shouting rose from the benches and peers shook their fists across the floor of the House the thunder of cannon was heard as the King left St. James's to come in person to pronounce the dissolution. 

Excited elections were held on the single issue of Reform. It was the first time a mandate of this kind had been asked of the British people. They returned an unmistakable answer. The Tories were annihilated in the county constituencies and the Whigs and their allies gained a majority of one hundred and thirty-six in the House of Commons. When Parliament reassembled the battle was shifted to the House of Lords. Wellington rose again and again to put the case against Reform. "A democracy," he declared, "has never been established in any part of the world that has not immediately declared war against property, against the payment of the public debt, and against all the principles of conservation, which are secured by, and are in fact the principal objects of, the British Constitution as it now exists. Property and its possessors will become the common enemy." 

On the night of 7th October 1831, the critical division took place. The peers were sharply divided, and it was the twenty-one bishops in the Upper House who decided the issue; they were against Reform. Thus the Tories triumphed. The Bill was defeated and a new constitutional issue was raised - the Peers against the People. 

Next morning the newspapers, bordered in black, proclaimed the news. Rioting broke out in the Midlands; houses and property were burned; there was wild disorder in Bristol. The associations of Reformers in the country, called Political Unions, strove to harness enthusiasm for the Bill and to steady the public temper. Meanwhile the Government persevered. In December Russell introduced the Bill for the third time, and the Commons carried it by a majority of two to one. In the following May it came again before the Lords. It was rejected by twenty-four votes. There was now no question of another dissolution and Grey realized that only extreme remedies would serve. He accordingly drove to Windsor and asked the King to create enough new Peers to carry the Bill. The King refused and the Cabinet resigned. William IV asked Wellington and Peel to form an administration to carry Reform. Feeling in the country became menacing. Plans were made for strikes and a general refusal of taxes. Banners and placards appeared in the London streets with the caption "To Stop the Duke Go for Gold," and there was a run on the Bank of England. Radical leaders declared they would paralyse any Tory Government that came to power, and after a week the Duke admitted defeat. On the afternoon of 18th May, Grey and Brougham called at St. James's Palace. The King authorized them to draw up a list of persons who would be made Peers and could be counted on to vote for the Whigs. At the same time he sent his private secretary to tell the leading Tories of his decision and suggest that they could avoid such extremities by abstaining. When the Bill was again introduced the Opposition benches were practically empty. It was carried by an overwhelming majority, and became law on 7th June 1832.

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