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ABN 31 010 090 247
PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA
(VICTORIA-TASMANIA) INC.
Tel  +613 9589 1802 Tel  +61429176725
18 Anita Street
BEAUMARIS VIC 3193

info@prsa.org.au
 7th July 2005
  
Mr John Watson
Director Governance and Legislation
Local Government Victoria
Department for Victorian Communities
 
Dear Mr Watson,
 
Submission on Draft Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2005
 
The Proportional Representation Society of Australia (Victoria-Tasmania) has considered the draft Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2005 being proposed as replacements for the Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 1995, which will expire this year, and the accompanying Regulatory Impact Statement on your Web site, and makes the following submission.
 
1. Support for Removal of Provision re Indications of Preferences:
The PRSAV-T strongly supports removing the provision of the existing Regulation 72 whereby candidates may, separately from and additionally to their 150-word personal statements that the Returning Officer is required to include with each ballot-paper posted, also lodge an indication of preferences, to be also included with the ballot-paper. This provision, not part of Victoria's municipal electoral system before 1995, does not appear to be needed in the successful PR municipal systems in Tasmania or South Australia.
 
2. Detailed Comments on Removal of Provision re Indications of Preferences:
 
(a) Official aid to candidates should be for that candidate alone, without confusing cross-references:
Public assistance to candidates at municipal polls should be confined to giving each candidate equal opportunity and facilities for publicizing his or her relevant attributes, and reasons for seeking the voter's first preference vote. Public assistance should not be provided to enable candidates to provide information extraneous to that, such as relative advantage or disadvantage to each other candidate, which is what a candidate's indication of preferences about other candidates essentially is. These cross-references between candidates increase voters’ confusion about the system and, in relation to candidates given low preference ratings, are quite negative. In an electoral system treating candidates as individuals and not as groups it is not the right of any candidate to have the law provide for the publicizing of his or her views on how voters should vote in a way that would either increase or decrease the chance of election of any candidate other than himself or herself.
 
The provision for the 150-word personal statement gives each candidate an equal opportunity to reveal information relevant to his or her own merits. The sole task for each voter, which the voter needs to concentrate on without extra confusing distractions, is to rank the candidates in the voter's order of preference, which should surely depend on the voter's judgement about the relative merits of each candidate, and should not be influenced by a judgement, about every other candidate, formulated, in an undeclared way and for undeclared purposes, by the candidate for whom the voter has decided to give his first preference vote.
 
The voter's remaining preference votes should be guided principally by the remaining candidates' personal statements, and not by a single candidate's recommended order of marking preferences. The purpose of the personal statements should be to assist the voter with that sole task. That worthwhile purpose is blunted and weakened if candidates are also officially provided with a means by which they can, with no reasons being declared or provision for them to be declared, potentially affect the electoral prospects of other candidates, either positively or negatively.
 
Voters should not be subjected to a publicly legislated and funded system of what many voters misunderstand as directions they must follow. Large scale copying of those indications of preferences onto ballot-papers can result in very many ballot papers all too easily becoming multiple clones of a single candidate's recommendation, whose numbers can easily swamp more individually-considered votes.
 
The present and the draft new Regulation both wisely prohibit reference in that personal statement to any other candidate without the consent in writing of that candidate. The provision for an indication of preferences in the existing Regulation 72, in addition to the 150-word personal statement, is therefore inconsistent with Sub-section 3 of the existing Regulation 71, which prohibits any reference in the personal statement to another candidate without that candidate's permission in writing, and whose effect would fortunately be continued by means of the proposed Regulation 37(2)(a) of the Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2005. That inconsistency will fortunately be removed if provision for an indication of preferences is removed as proposed.
 
(b) Abuse of system by bona fide candidates standing "dummies", to gain preference flow:
The distribution, at public expense, of the 150-word personal statement, provided for in the existing Regulation 71, is a very desirable aspect of the current regulations, and we would not wish that facility to be eroded. In contrast the present separate and additional distribution of the indication of preferences is a main cause of the high incidence of "dummy" candidates at municipal postal ballots in Victoria.
 
Without that free tool for campaigners for bona fide candidates to use, there would be far less point in such campaigners' practice of arranging "dummy" candidates to stand to help them, rather than to compete against them, as that efficient mechanism for channelling preferences from deliberately minor candidates would no longer exist. Instead all voters, including those for such minor candidates, would have to decide by themselves which of the major candidates they ultimately supported, rather than their often, in many cases unwittingly, letting that decision be effectively made for them by the person lodging the indication of preferences.
 
Bona fide candidates now find the use of "dummy" candidates unavoidable, even if it is not a part of the electoral process they approve of, simply because their opponents are likely to use them, and they cannot afford to be outdone by those opponents.
 
There is a widespread profession of disapproval of the practice of candidates at municipal elections, as opposed to those at state or federal elections, being endorsed by, or linked to, political parties, but there is little doubt that the provision for distribution of the indication of preferences with posted ballot-papers assists the electoral prospects of such organized groups, at the expense of candidates without such endorsement, as the latter have fewer resources and contacts to so readily organize the nomination of one or more "dummy" candidates to harvest preference votes for them.
 
If each of, or most of, those "dummy" candidates had to, without the existing publicly-provided facility, separately publicize their individual "how-to-vote" recommendations, there would be likely to be substantially fewer such candidates confusing the electoral picture, and running the risk, for them and the public, of their inadvertently being elected.

(c) Compromise - not championed by PRSAV-T – but preferable to keeping the separate indications:
If the Government found that supporters of the present distribution of indications of preferences were too numerous and vehement on this matter, it could, rather than abandoning its intention completely, perhaps give some concession to such supporters if it altered the present regulation in a slightly different manner by including a provision that, notwithstanding the general restriction on the use of names of other candidates in a personal statement, an indication of preferences would be allowed to form part of, but not be additional to, or be separate from, the 150-word personal statement. That would help rebut possible complaints that information was being suppressed. This suggestion is not advocated by the PRSAV-T, except as a reluctant amendment to our preferred position above that would be preferable to the retention of the separate indication of preferences.
 
Such a compromise would retain some inconsistency, but it would introduce a disincentive to indicating preferences, as candidates would need to choose whether they were prepared to use part of their personal statement in such a way, or instead had higher priorities for its use. It would publicly reveal which candidates chose an indication of preferences over using the full 150 words available to explain themselves as fully as possible. That could be exposed as, and come to be seen as, a sign of which were "dummy" candidates, and which were not, which could help voters.
 
The proposed Regulation 37(2)(d) of the draft Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2005 is consistent with the intention of the proposed 2005 Regulations, but a compromise amendment as above would necessitate the expression "or a recommendation that voters support one or more other candidates" being omitted from the proposed Regulation 37(2)(d), and the expression "other than a recommendation that voters mark their preferences for all of the candidates in a stated order" being inserted after the word "candidate" in the proposed Regulation 37(2)(a). The words “for all of the candidates” would mean that a preference recommendation could only be included in a personal statement if the recommendation related to all of the candidates, and if it would fit within the 150-word limit.
 
3. Concern over Extent of New Restrictions on the Content of the 150-word Personal Statement:
The PRSAV-T supports, subject to our qualification in our Paragraph 3 above, the restrictions specified in the proposed Regulation 37 except that it considers that the proposed Regulation 37(2)(c) of the draft Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2005 is in one respect unnecessarily prohibitive about the content of the personal statement. Our concern would be met if the word "past" were to be inserted just before the word "decisions " in the part of that clause that reads, "... a comment about the decisions, actions or performance of the relevant Council ...". There might be valid arguments about contentions over past matters, but there does not seem to be any valid reason for prohibiting reference in personal statements to anticipated future decisions, actions or performance, as the election is very much concerned with voters choosing between different possible futures, and it is important that hopes, plans and fears of candidates be publicly revealed rather than hidden. It is obvious that comments about a future council are purely hypothetical, as the council's membership is unknown until after the poll.
 
It would be highly undesirable if councillors elected under a regulation such as the proposed Regulation 37(2)(c) could later use, as a successful defence to charges of not having revealed before the election what they intended to do once they achieved office, the justification that the Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2005 prohibited them from doing so. Voters can recognize that such statements on future decisions, actions or performance can be just as dubious and devious, or just as perceptive and honest, as the case may be, when made by a council as when made by a candidate.
 
4. Support for Requiring Returning Officer's Web Site to Display all Personal Statements:
The PRSAV-T supports legal effect being given to the mandatory provision, which is highly desirable, for the display on the Returning Officer's web site of all personal statements lodged, and makes suggestions for improvement of the proposed draft regulation below.
The proposed Regulation 39(4) of the Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2005, which states, "The returning officer must publish all candidate statements on a web site maintained by or on behalf of the returning officer that is not the web site of the council." should be altered to read,
"The returning officer must promptly publish all candidate statements on a web site maintained by or on behalf of the returning officer that is not the web site of the council so that such statements are clearly arranged by municipality and, if applicable, wards, without any restrictions on access to them, and in an accessible format."
 
5. Matters Required to be Considered by the Reviewer at an Electoral Representation Review:
 
(a) Recommendations departing from parity between percentage quotas in different wards:
The proposed Regulation 6 of the Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2005 should better re-inforce the goal of greater consistency and equitability expressed in the Regulatory Impact Statement, by altering proposed Regulation 6(a)(iii), which reads,"any limitations arising from the electoral structure" to read instead,
"any limitations arising from the electoral structure including any inconsistency or lack of parity between the percentage quotas in different wards of a municipality".
 
Section 219D(1)(c) of the Act specifies that, for all wards of a council, the ratio of the number of electors in the ward to the number of councillors to be elected for the ward shall remain within a 10% tolerance, yet that obvious intention of equity and parity is weakened when the percentage quota for election is allowed to differ between the various wards of a council. Therefore there should be a requirement for a compelling reason to be stated in the relevant review reports, if an electoral structure lacking parity is to be recommended over one with full parity.
 
(b) Recommendations for a ward to have an even number of councillors to be elected for it:
The proposed Regulation 6 of the Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2005 should better re-inforce the goal of greater consistency and equitability expressed in the Regulatory Impact Statement, by adding a new Regulation 6(b)(v), which would read,
"whether there is sufficient justification for any recommendation of the reviewer for any ward or municipal electoral district to elect an even number of councillors, as that has the inherent disadvantage, unlike the case where the number of councillors to be elected is an uneven number, that an absolute majority of the votes cast do not necessarily elect an absolute majority of the councillors there, but can elect only half of them."
 
6. Practical Guide to Candidates Preparing Photograph for Submission to the Returning Officer:
It would be a useful assistance to candidates, many of whom would wish to print their own digital photographs without the expense, delay and inconvenience of commercial or professional assistance, and might not be aware of the standard dimensions of passport-size photographs, if Clause 37(2)(b) were to be made more specific and read instead, "a recent rectangular passport-size photograph, being 45 mm high and 35 mm wide, of the candidate".
 
Yours sincerely,
 
   
Geoffrey Goode
President
Proportional Representation Society of Australia (Victoria-Tasmania)