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Robson Rotation

Using rotation of names on ballot papers was instigated in Tasmania by Hon. Neil Robson, as a Private Member's Bill in 19798. It has been used very successfully for the Tasmanian House of Assembly and Legislative Council since 1980. More recently it has been adopted for the ACT Legislative Assembly. In 2001, legislation was passed in the ACT to further enhance the system by increasing the number of distinct permutations of candidates names used. This results in an even more level playing field for the different candidates, making the result of the election more truly respect the wishes of the voters. The slightly increased cost of printing ballot papers is not significant considering the overall cost of an election and Robson Rotation certainly reduces undemocratic distortions. The large parties still retain the power, and the funds, to independently advertise and promote their preferred order of candidates, and probably would continue to do so, although they have hardly ever been moved to do so in Tasmania. Their influence should come about because they have positively persuaded voters to vote for candidates in a particular order, rather than being gained by an appeal to voters' convenience.

In 1985 there was a major overhaul of the Tasmanian Electoral Act, while Mr Robson was the Minister. The 1986 Tasmanian elections dramatically showed how a level playing field for candidates can deliver a result that would be unthinkable in other electoral system where parties and pre-selection panels have a strong influence on the result. The major parties retained the same number of MHAs -- 19 Liberal and 14 ALP. The only change in party numbers was two Green members replacing a Democrat and an independent. However, there was a dramatic change in the makeup of the House, with more than 50% of the MHAs being new. Only four members elected in 1982 did not stand -- 15 sitting members contested the election but were rejected by the voters. Many voters kept their party allegiance but exercised their power to dump candidates that performed unsatisfactorily.

In the ACT MLAs have also lost their seats without the party balance changing and the voters have played a crucial role in changing the factional balance within the ALP. After the poor result for the ALP in the 1998 election, two external reviewers noted that because the Federal seats are not marginal seats, the sub-branches did not have a marginal seat campaigning culture. One of the recommendations was to abandon the policy of recommending a set preference order for ALP voters. Only by becoming more responsive to voters and reducing the control of the party (and particularly one faction within the party) has the ALP been able to reverse its electoral defeats and return to government in 2001.

The number of first preference votes a candidate obtains is a measure of their popular support amongst the voters. In electoral systems with biased ballot papers, it is often possible for candidates to be elected with very small numbers of first preference votes. In response to a question raised by the Victorian Opposition Leader, Dr Denis Napthine, when PRSAV-T representatives met him, research was conducted to compare the effect of Robson Rotation with the systems that preceded it in Tasmania and the stage-managed order in which candidates' names appear on ballot-papers for the Senate. The research showed that the minimum percentage of first preference votes that has ever been gained by a Tasmanian MHA elected at a PR poll is some 67 times larger than the minimum percentage of first preference votes that has ever been gained by any Australian senator elected at a PR poll9. That is a significant demonstration of the substantial way in which the Hare-Clark system involves voters in considering the relative merits of various candidates, and why systems with stage-managed ballot-paper ordering of candidates' names do not. Hare-Clark ensures that a candidate must have substantial support amongst the voters in order to be elected; this cannot be said for other electoral systems where fewer candidates stand and ballot papers are biased.

The research also showed that the minimum percentage of first preference votes that has ever been gained by a Tasmanian senator elected at a PR poll is some 18 times larger than the average of the minimum percentage of first preference votes that has ever been gained by a senator elected at a PR poll in each of the remaining States, where the lack of Hare-Clark experience has led to voters being far less inclined to use their power of considering individual candidates' merits and selecting candidates in their own order of preference.

Thus, by using quota-preferential with countback (which ensures a greater selection of candidates) and Robson Rotation, power is given to the voters rather than parties, factions within parties, pre-selection panels et cetera. Parties, factions and individual members of parliament must be responsive and accountable to the voters or they run a high risk of being punished at the ballot box. Voters are empowered and participate more actively in the political process. No other electoral system gives as much power to the voters and comes as close to the ideals of democracy.


next up previous contents
Next: Group Voting Tickets Up: Discussion Previous: Countback
Lee Naish
2001-11-27