QUOTA    NOTES

 

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

     QN80                             December 1995                    www.prsa.org.au

 

 

Computerized Senate Scrutinies

Criticism of quota-preferential proportional representation for the time it takes to count could be vanquished at the next Senate elections by Easycount, the Australian Electoral Commission's computerized scrutiny count. Alan Jeffrey, Victorian PRSA member, reports that once the last postal vote is received, this computer program can complete the counting of vote preferences within two hours instead of the three weeks or more a manual count takes.


The Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill 1995, which would have required the AEC to use Easycount at Senate elections, was amended by the Senate to include truth in political campaigning proposals that the House of Representatives failed to accept. That unfortunately stalled the bill. The Easycount part of the bill was acceptable to both Houses. The AEC is still able to use Easycount.
 

Easycount passed its major test when used for a re-run of the 1993 Queensland count. In manual counting the formality rules and identification of exhausted preferences are tasks that computers handle with effortless accuracy. Savings expected are about $350,000. The computerized count should unearth a treasure trove of research data, which was not part of the manual count. It is intended that copies of the Easycount program, all ballot-paper data, and the count reports will be available to candidates. The enhanced research prospects, including comparison with the primitive lower house electoral system, should be most useful.

 

More Good News from the ACT

 At the 1998 ACT elections voters will be free to choose to proceed into polling places uninterrupted. After October's unamended passage of the ACT's Electoral (Amendment) Bill 1995, canvassing and distribution of electoral matter will be prohibited within 100 metres of a defined polling area. The PRSA's ACT Branch strongly supported this, as Robson Rotation stresses the role of voters, rather than party machines, in determining the composition of the legislature. Opposition Leader, Rosemary Follett, unsuccessfully moved amendments requiring "any electoral matter, including how-to-vote cards made available by candidates for the purpose of the election" to be exhibited in each voting compartment. As there were no rules about the extent of such material or the manner of its compilation, Independent MLA Michael Moore demonstrated what could happen by bringing into the chamber a large election-day poster as an example of what could be among the material displayed in each compartment.


In September, the ACT Electoral Commission upheld the objections of the PRSA's ACT Branch and others to the registration as a political party of the Smokers are Voters and Civil Rights group. Prior to the 1995 election, this group had submitted a scrappy single page, purporting to be a Constitution fulfilling one electoral legislation requirement for a registered name to appear on the ballot paper.
 

The ACT Branch welcomed the protection afforded voters by the Commission's decision to insist on evidence of ratification of constitutions by a general meeting of members, as well as its setting of minimum content standards in relation to membership requirements, particulars of office bearers and their election, the keeping of accounts, and the mechanism for changing a constitution.
 

Late in November the Attorney-General, Mr Gary Humphries, introduced the Carnell Government's citizen-initiated referenda legislation, making provision for specific proposed laws to be referred to the people if 5% of voters have indicated support for such a course of action within the period allowed for the collection of signatures.

 

PRSA Targets Discrimination Against Below-the-Line Senate Voters

 In 1983 party boxes became law, but only a very modest reduction in formality requirements occurred for those voters marking the squares alongside Senate candidates' names. A vote is accepted provided at least 90% of squares have been numbered, with no more than three breaks in sequence. Despite the formidable obstacles still placed in the way of voters wishing to mark preferences below the line, especially when 50 or more candidates sometimes nominate, around 600,000 Australians still did so in 1993 (5.6% of formal votes), compared with over 1,200,000 in 1987 (13.3%). Many of those would be PRSA members or sympathizers.


With two electoral amendment Bills before Parliament, in September PRSA President Bogey Musidlak and psephologist Malcolm Mackerras jointly called for an end to the discriminatory blight that confronts voters wishing to mark boxes alongside candidates' names. They pointed out that when the single transferable vote is used to elect 21 Legislative Councillors in NSW only 15 consecutive numbers are required for a below-the-line vote to be formal, and that seven preferences are enough in Tasmania's Hare-Clark system, where each electorate returns 7 Members.
 

Letters asking for an end to the Senate double standard were sent to the Hon. Frank Walker, Minister for Administrative Services, and a range of senators that have taken an active interest in electoral matters. WA Greens Senator Christabel Chamarette, who has made clear her support for optional preferential voting in the report on the 1993 elections of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, took up the issue in debate, and intends to continue to press the matter. This is a matter on which the Society will actively campaign until relief is obtained for voters.

 

Western Australian Electoral Moves

John Taplin, President of the PRSA's Western Australian Branch, quickly drew public attention to gross defects in WA's Local Government Bill 1995, which proposes first-past-the-post voting for local government elections.
 

In a letter to The West Australian, he suggested that instead thought should be given to computer counting being adopted for a proportional representation ballot. It was his understanding that Councils and Shires mostly advocate proportional representation in three-member wards, and that this was the form the original draft Bill took. In handing down its first major report in August, the Commission on Government, headed by a former Auditor-General, Mr Jack Gregor, recommended that Robson Rotation be used for Legislative Council ballot papers to discourage political candidates from currying favour within their party to gain top spot on a ticket.
 

The report also advocated optional preferential voting for both the Council and the Assembly, the replacement of the current vote weighting for Legislative Assembly electorates with a maximum 15% tolerance in enrolments, and that politicians retiring early should be required to fund part of the cost of the ensuing by-election.

 

Parties Nominating More Candidates than the Number of Seats they Expect

One of the invaluable features of the Hare-Clark electoral system, from the point of view of the wide choice given to voters, is its inbuilt incentive for parties to nominate a number of candidates that is often about twice the number of the seats they expect to fill. Hare-Clark achieves that by filling casual vacancies by a re-examination of the quota of votes that elected the vacating candidate. By contrast the more restricted Senate system, where neither general nor periodic elections are used to determine which candidate will fill a casual vacancy, has often had major parties nominating as few as one more than the bare majority of the available seats they have learnt is the best outcome they can expect.


Single-member electoral systems, of course, are able to offer the least scope to voters, as each party usually nominates only one candidate. Nevertheless, when Australia's present system of preferential voting in single-member districts began, in the 1920s, some of its advocates claimed that it would encourage parties to give voters a choice of candidates from the same party, and hence widen voters' choices, even though, unlike proportional representation, it cannot increase beyond 51% the percentage of voters that have an effective vote that actually elects a candidate. That claim has rarely been repeated since, as parties have resolutely minimized voters' choices, by standing only one candidate per party.
 

Nevertheless, recent polls for the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly have reminded people that the possibility does exist. In each of three such polls the Territory's home-grown Country Liberal Party has fielded a pair of candidates, as the table below shows. No CLP candidate was elected in these polls, although the 1995 poll was close. The advantage of the approach was that CLP voters had a choice, within the party, denied to other voters, between aboriginal and non-aboriginal candidates in the 1990 polls, and a choice between aboriginals from two different tribal backgrounds in the 1995 poll.

 

Election

Candidate

Party

Whether Aboriginal

First Preference Votes

MacDonnell General Election 27OC1990

Bell

ALP

Non-aboriginal

1131

Heenan

CLP

Non-aboriginal

542

Hunt

CLP

Aboriginal

453

 

 

 

 

Stuart

General Election 27OC1990

Ede

ALP

Non-aboriginal

1186

Nelson

CLP

Non-aboriginal

450

Pananka

CLP

Aboriginal

537

 

 

 

 

Arnhem

By-elelction 07OC1995

Ah Kit

ALP

Aboriginal

1195

Nunggarrgalu

CLP

Aboriginal

500

Yumbulul

CLP

Aboriginal

310

 

Lawrence

Ind.

Non-aboriginal

304

 

Preferential voting lets voters choose which of several candidates of their party they most prefer on the basis of the different personal backgrounds of the candidates. Many voters consider this a useful choice, as all the candidates in a party normally follow the same party platform, and many voters see personal background as their major field of choice within a party. The preselectors have usually monopolized that choice by standing one candidate only per party.


Recently the Australian Labor Party has begun to prescribe, without giving voters a direct choice, that preselections for winnable seats must achieve a certain minimum percentage of ALP MPs of each sex. A new registered party has as its main aim there being a mandatorily equal number of male and female MPs in each Australian Parliament. Hare-Clark elections with similar numbers of male and female candidates would be the fairest way of allowing voters to decide, at each election, how far they wished to accept those ideas. By contrast, with single-member electorates each with a single candidate from each party, these ideas of the ALP and the new party can only be implemented by imposing a candidate on voters. Yet any party can, even without PR, as the CLP has shown, let its voters choose between its candidates.


The ALP or other interested parties could easily stand a man and a woman in each electoral district so that all voters at each election could choose as they saw fit. That should increase the overall vote of the party. That may well have been the motive of the CLP in these cases, but an important added benefit for voters is the greater choice offered.

 

Information on Proportional Representation

The President of the Victorian Branch of the PRSA, Dr Lee Naish, has recently organized an informative PRSA home page on the Internet. It includes a great deal of information that the PRSA is now promoting on a world-wide basis.


Included are details of our aims and objects, means of contacting us, A Brief History of the PRSA, the National President's address to the 1995 Annual General Meeting of the NSW Branch, the Queensland Branch Secretary's university thesis, A Matter of Preference? Defending the Single Transferable Vote (See QN71), Australian Electoral Commission information, a Tour of the Parliament of Tasmania, an official guide to NZ's MMP electoral system, and Bunreacht Na hEireann, the Constitution of Eire, which includes Articles 16 and 18, both of which entrench quota-preferential proportional representation for Dail Eireann and Seanad Eireann, the Lower and Upper Houses respectively. The Uniform Resource Locator of the PRSA home page is: www.prsa.org.au.
 

As a result of Lee's initiative, the PRSA now exchanges Quota Notes for Voice, the newsletter of the Northern California Citizens for Proportional Representation, of PO Box 128, Sacramento, CA 95812 USA. It listed the ULR for the Center for Voting and Democracy, which is: www.igc.apc.org/cvd. That site gave the full text of HR 2545, a Voters' Choice Bill, seeking a PR option for Congress, introduced into the 104th US Congress by Democrat MHR, Cynthia McKinney.
 

Two excellent Tasmanian reports, Report on Parliamentary Elections 1990 to 1994, and Local Government Elections, 1994 are now available free by writing to Mr Andrew Hawkey, Tasmanian Electoral Office, GPO Box 275C, HOBART TAS 7001. Each report can be obtained as hard copy or as an Excel spreadsheet on disc, or both. If requesting a disc, please indicate the disc size and whether PC or Mac format. The coherent and informative Assembly reports have been produced for many years. The Victorian Branch collection starts at the Report for elections from 1942 to 1947! The Tasmanian Electoral Office Reports are probably the most consistent and illuminating indicators of how the makeup of a Parliament reflects the wishes of its voters that can be found anywhere in the world. Perhaps the ACT may begin to give them some competition, but it will not have as long a span of record as Tasmania has.


In sad contrast, the Morling Committee of Inquiry's 1994 recommend-ation, that the Hare-Clark system in Tasmania be extended to the election of the Legislative Council on a Statewide franchise, has not been acted upon. Instead, after the Legislative Council Electoral Boundaries Act 1995 passed, a redistribution committee chaired by retired Justice Nettlefold recommended how the Council's boundaries should be redrawn to end the previous huge disparities in enrolments. A two-month period of public comment and review is in process.

 

Three Bad Electoral Systems

AUSTRALIA'S BIGGEST UNION

A contest over the electoral system used by Australia's largest union, the Community and Public Sector Union, reported in QN73, A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, has moved to a further stage. The CPSU Rules specify a system that is presented to voters as a preferential system of voting, in that they require voters to mark ballots to show their preferences as 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. However, unlike the system of preferential voting and counting that Australians are used to at their generally compulsory polls for elections of their parliaments, the preferences marked at CPSU polls are not necessarily counted as preferences. Instead, all preferences marked, which must exactly equal the number of vacancies if the vote is to be accepted as valid, can be counted as equal votes so that the first preference marked on a valid ballot is deemed to be a vote of equal value to the last preference marked. Each valid preferential ballot-paper does not therefore represent a single transferable vote, but is deemed to constitute as many votes as there are vacancies, and those votes are each of equal value. In effect it becomes a first-past-the-post block vote. But the voters and many candidates do not realize this.


One determined candidate, Mr Tony Longland, has polled well enough in past polls to have easily gained a quota of votes, whereas some of the candidates elected have not. He has succeeded in obtaining an order, as a result of his action Longland versus the CPSU, from the Industrial Court of Australia that the result of the last CPSU election, in which he was not elected, be overturned and a fresh election held at the union's expense. The judge, Justice Keely, seemed concerned about the poor CPSU electoral system, but he stopped short of ordering that it be changed in a particular manner. Instead he expressed his wish that the parties should talk to each other to seek changes that would improve matters. Unfortunately Mr Longland has said that his attempts to discuss it with the Union and its officials have been totally ignored by them. Although he was a prominent candidate supported by the first preference votes of a great many members, he has been unable to have had any of his letters to the Editor printed in the CPSU national journal.


His legal costs of some $60,000 have been met, quite properly, by the taxpayers through Legal Aid. It is expected that the CPSU's costs, which the union has to pay, would be of a similar magnitude, but there has not been, and it appears unlikely that there will be, any attempt by the Union to draw its members' attention to what this is costing them.


Mr Longland is left somewhat puzzled by the CPSU's attitude, as he was merely seeking to be one member of a committee. He stood as one of five candidates for four positions. The other four candidates were all endorsed by the present dominant faction within the CPSU.


As explained in QN73, Mr Longland could, at that election, have received 79% of the total number of first preference votes cast yet still not have been elected. The reason is that the voters were required to mark preferences 1, 2, 3, and 4, but the rules quietly and unobtrusively required that the first four preference markings on each ballot-paper were each to be treated as a single votes of equal value, so that each valid ballot-paper had to contain votes for 4 of the 5 candidates. A subtle sign, which most voters would have not appreciated, that this ostensibly preferential ballot was not a single transferable vote poll of either the quota-preferential or majority-preferential type was the extraordinary and arbitrary statement that ballots would be invalid if they showed more than 4 preferences marked. Mr Longland's voters were forced by the CPSU's regulations, if their ballots were not to be ruled to be invalid, to give an equally powerful vote to each of three of his rivals.

 

AUSTRALIA'S BIGGEST PUBLIC COMPANY

This year is one of the few years when shareholders of Australia's biggest public company, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, were advised than a vote would need to be taken at the annual election of board members, as there were more candidates than places. The law can require each board position to be filled separately by a majority vote, but it is silent about how that is done. What usually happens is that the board, in setting the agenda for the Annual General Meeting, determines the order in which candidates are presented to be voted upon, for or against - like a series of motions, with no provision for ranking. Board members withdrawing do so normally before the AGM, and the resulting casual vacancies are, by law, filled by a resolution of the board. Thus, retiring members, all standing again, are usually presented to the AGM first. By the time other candidates are considered, all places have been filled.

 

AUSTRALIA'S BIGGEST MUTUAL ORGANIZATION

This year 50 candidates stood for 8 vacancies on the Council of the National Roads and Motorists Association (NRMA) under its antiquated winner-take-all system in which voters had to vote for precisely 8 candidates. See QN52, QN53. Nearly 200,000 members voted. Those elected were each supported by between 28 and 35%, and came from 2 groups of 8.


The Nick Whitlam team obtained 30% of the vote (25-35% for individual candidates), and had 5 elected. The Motorists' Action Group with nearly 28% (21-34% for individuals) had 3 candidates returned. Small changes in the pattern of support for individuals could have seen the outcome lie between 6-2 and 3-5, even though over 40% of votes were for the remaining 34 candidates. Two other groups with respectively 3 and 4 candidates gained 14% of the vote in total, but had no-one elected although one of their candidates was supported by nearly 24% of voters. The forced additional votes of those supporting these groups probably helped determine the election outcome. The experience reinforces a strategy of organizing a full block of candidates for groups hoping to gain enough support to have someone elected under what often reverts to a crude winner-take-all system in practice. While over half those voting had between 3 and 5 effective votes, large numbers may not have seen any of the candidates they supported elected.

 

National Office-bearers for 1996-97

The Returning Officer for the recent elections of PRSA National Office-bearers, Ms Julie McCarron-Benson, has declared the candidates below elected unopposed to the following positions within the Society from 1st January 1996 to 31st December 1997:

 

National President:                 Mr Bogey Musidlak

National Vice-President:         Mr Geoffrey Goode

National Secretary:                 Mr Deane Crabb

National Treasurer:                 Mr Robert Forster

 

A newcomer is Deane Crabb, John Alexander's successor as National Secretary. Deane is also the Secretary of the South Australian Branch, and has been a frequent contributor to Quota Notes. Robert Forster has succeeded Len Higgs as National Treasurer. Len has been National Treasurer since 1986. His decade as Treasurer included two vital major national fundraisings - for PRSA to campaign in the successful 1992 and 1995 referendums that chose and then entrenched Hare-Clark in the ACT. Len's involvement in those significant campaigns was a pleasing part of his more than fifty years' membership of the SA Branch.

 


 

1995 Proportional Representation Society of Australia


National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Cr. NARRABUNDAH 2604

National Secretary: Deane Crabb 11 Yapinga Street SOUTH PLYMPTON SA 5038

Tel: (02) 6295 8137, (08) 8297 6441 info@prsa.org.au

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