Newsletter of the Proportional Representation
QN60 December 1990 www.prsa.org.au
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
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;
(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);
representation using the Hare
(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
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 . 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:
Our South Australian Branch held a
special meeting in
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
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,
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
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
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).
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.
Last month the Victorian Government
introduced a bill for a PR electoral system for the
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
Proportional Representation Society of
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
Printed by PRINT MINT
(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
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.
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
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