Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia


                 QN63            September 1991       www.prsa.org.au



Polls in Singapore's City State Show How Badly a

Single-member Electorate System Would Work in the ACT


Parliamentary elections in the City State of Singapore show how the fundamental inability of single-member electoral systems to give fair or reasonable representation is highlighted in compact voting populations that have a fairly uniform geographic distribution of voter attitudes.

The People's Action Party has had a large majority of Singapore MPs since 1959. In 1980 the PAP gained 78% of the vote, and won all seats. By 1988 the party's share of the vote had fallen to 63%, yet its MPs gained 80 of the 81 seats, even though there were opposition candidates contesting each of 70 electorates.

In mid-August 1991 a snap poll, two years earlier than required, was called for 31st August. When nominations closed on 21st August opposition parties had nominated for only 40 seats - less than an absolute majority of the seats. This was said to be so the 1.7 million voters could elect an effective opposition without any fear of the PAP losing its majority of seats.

This time the PAP vote fell to 61%, which won it 77 seats. The remaining 4 seats were won by two opposition parties, which intend to form a coalition. Such a skewed result, with the system prompting parties to drastically curtail the choice offered to voters, would not have occurred with multi-member districts and quota-preferential PR.

At the ACT Advisory Poll in February 1992 voters will choose a system, either like Singapore's or like Tasmania's, as the replacement for the discredited Consolidated d'Hondt procedure.


ACT Appeal Reminder

We remind everybody that donations to the PRSA's National Appeal for Campaign Funds for the February 1992 ACT Advisory Poll (letting all ACT voters choose between Hare-Clark and single-member electorates for the ACT) are still needed.

The PRSA Treasurer, 3 Bohun Place MOANA SA 5169, has so far gratefully received 35 donations. At least $50 was received from each of:

PRSA Victorian Branch, PRSA NSW Branch, Tax Reform Australia, D.R. Davies, C. Aitken, Lew Ellis, N.G. Ellis, G. Goode, J.H. Mitchell, F.M. Pillinger, A. Richter, R. Stapleton and H. Southcott.


Nominations for Election of National Office-bearers for 1992-3

Under the PRSA Constitution, it is the turn this year for the Returning Officer for the above PRSA elections to be the Secretary of the Western Australian Branch, Mr Norm Cox. Nominations, for President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer, which need to be signed by the candidate only, as consent to nomination, should be received by Mr Cox at PO Box 512 CLAREMONT WA 6010 by 31st October 1991.

Any candidate may submit a statement of up to one hundred words to the Returning Officer, who shall submit it to voters with the ballot-papers.

The two-year term of each office begins on 1st January 1992. If any poll is required, ballot-papers will be posted on 7th November 1991 and the poll will close on 14th December 1991. Results will appear in December's Quota Notes.


National Seminar of Independents and Balance of Power MPs

's first National Seminar of Independents and Balance of Power MPs was held in Adelaide on 7th August 1991. It was convened by the SA Democrat, Hon. Ian Gilfillan MLC.

Discussed were common concerns such as how such MPs are working together in their own parliaments to introduce legislation, to participate in select committees, to draft motions, and generally to work towards realizing the principle of parliamentary supremacy.

The only invited speaker was Deane Crabb, Secretary of the SA Branch of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia. He led the discussion on a fair electoral system for all, and spoke about the need to cater for both elector and party representation and how that can be achieved by using Tasmania's Hare-Clark system of proportional representation. Although such a system does improve the chances of independents and minor parties being elected, that is not an unfair advantage, but instead remedies the glaring defects of winner-take-all procedures so that all voters and candidates are treated as equally as possible.

As a group, those MPs at the seminar (from NSW, WA, SA and Tasmania) expressed support for proportional representation in principle. Under PR their main concern was not about getting elected, but how to service a large electorate. This is a particular problem for outstanding, relatively irreplaceable MPs, which many independent and smaller party MPs often have to be to rival the larger parties. An example is the Green Independent Dr Bob Brown who, as an MHA for Denison, was elected in 1989 with just over 1.7 quotas of first preference votes, compared with the next most popular individual, the then Deputy Liberal Leader, the Hon. Ray Groom, who gained just over 1.4 quotas. Deane was asked to pursue this issue, and would welcome suggestions from PRSA members, who should write to him at 11 Yapinga Street PLYMPTON SA 5038.

The next National Seminar of these MPs is to be in Tasmania.


Colin Ball Retires

's Chief Electoral Officer, Mr Colin Ball, has just retired. An interview with him formed a major feature article in The Mercury of 6th September 1991.

The article described Mr Ball as a strong booster of Tasmania's Hare-Clark electoral system, who said it is one of the fairest and most accurate for expressing the community's will through the ballot box.

He believes a vital solution to Australia's widespread ignorance and apathy on electoral matters is to make Australian politics a compulsory subject in Years 10 to 12 of secondary school. The article quoted him as saying,

"You may say a lot of things about the American education system, but they do know their politics, because they are taught it in school all the time. It is not some optional system they can duck. They have a more sophisticated understanding of the political process, even though they have an unfair, and far less sophisticated political system. In Australia we have one of the most sophisticated and fair political processes, yet most people have a very unsophisticated understanding of it, and most of them couldn't care less."


Most PRSA members would probably agree.

Mr Ball's experience was tapped internationally when his advice was sought for New Zealand's Royal Commission on the Electoral System, and when he visited Namibia to assist with the UN-supervised elections there. Those elections used proportional representation, but unfortunately it was a party list rather than a quota-preferential system.

Colin Ball has always been very helpful when the PRSA has approached him for his advice on technical aspects of the Hare-Clark system. When the PRSA National President, who had been appointed to the Synod Voting System Sub-committee of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, was recently advocating the inclusion, in the Synod Elections Bill being examined, of the Tasmanian Assembly method of filling casual vacancies in the House of Assembly, Colin responded to a request for advice by very persuasively describing the rationale and merits of that extremely sound and sensible method of direct election.

The PRSA wishes Mr Ball well in his retirement from official duties. Perhaps he may emerge as a campaigner for the merits of the Hare-Clark system. He could do that well, and would certainly be listened to.


 Local Government

The biennial local government elections were held throughout South Australia in May this year. Since 1985, there has been a choice between two electoral systems, both of which are applied in multi-member electoral districts.

One system is quota-preferential PR, and more councils are adopting it. Some 50% of councils use PR now, whereas only 25% used it in 1985. As most councils have a fairly small number of seats, they quite wisely often abolish wards as well.

The other system available is officially called the optional preferential method, although that is really only a description of the fact that only the first preference is required to be marked. This idiosyncratic system appears to be peculiar to SA, and is aptly described there as the bottoms-up method.

In counting the votes, the candidate with the fewest first preference votes is excluded, and those votes are transferred to the continuing candidates until the number of candidates remaining in the count equals the number of vacancies. The procedure appears to be peculiar to South Australia. It is advocated by SA's Electoral Office, and is used to elect SA's Superannuation Board.

In the UK the term single transferable vote is taken to mean quota-preferential PR, but Australia's electoral tinkerers have blurred that description by using, in multi-member electorates (the Senate 1919-48, and now the City of Melbourne and some other Victorian municipalities) an STV with election by absolute majority only, and in SA's bottoms up, using an STV with election by relative majority after distribution of preferences. The latter is little more than a poor palliative for first-past-the-post multi-member systems, which are disastrous.

Two cheerful municipal notes were sounded recently. Melbourne City Council's Chief Executive Officer, Ms Elizabeth Proust, proposed that Parliament should allow the municipality to be a single electorate where all councillors are elected as a group by quota-preferential PR. Also the Vice-President of the PRSA's Queensland Branch, Alderman John Campbell, was elected Deputy Lord Mayor of Brisbane.


 The NSW Branch's NRMA Campaign May Yet Bear Fruit

In 1988 members of the PRSA's NSW Branch formally but unsuccessfully moved at the Annual General Meeting of the New South Wales National Roads and Motorists Association, having given due notice, that PR should replace the longstanding common law block voting electoral system used to fill periodic multiple vacancies on the NRMA Council (See Quota Notes Nos
52 & 53).


Since then certain independent councillors such as the media personality, Jane Singleton, have fortunately been elected and have queried the electoral system. That and other concerns have caused the NRMA to have established a committee to review such matters. Sir Laurence Street, the former Chief Justice of NSW, has agreed to serve as Chairman of the committee. The NRMA has written to the PRSA's NSW Branch inviting it to make a submission.


 Query by WA Readers

Quota Notes
has received queries from readers in Western Australia about the statement in the last issue that the Tasmanian Upper House is the only one in Australia that can reject supply without any MLCs facing election thereby. They argue that all the WA MLCs now have a fixed concurrent four year term, and that the WA Constitution Act allows the Legislative Council to reject supply whenever it may be submitted to it during the MLCs' term. The justifications given are correct - the Council is not dissolved, but its members' terms run from the 21st May on which their terms began to the 21st May four years later.


Nevertheless, the situation differs from that in Tasmania subtly but significantly because, if a WA Lower House election is held in the last twelve months of the MLCs' term, the Governor may cause an election for all the Upper House seats to be held on the same day, although that election is not to fill the seats of the current MLCs, but instead the seats of those whose terms will begin on the next 21st May. By contrast, in Tasmania, there are never more than 4 of the 19 Upper House seats subject to an election in any year. Of the 19 seats, at least 9 always have three years to run before their term ends.


A better wording in the article in Quota Notes No. 62 on the Tasmanian Upper House would have been


"... despite the (Tasmanian) Upper House being the only one in Australia that can reject supply without any election of Upper House members possibly being occasioned thereby."


 Seventh Senator Not "Directly Chosen by the People"

The resignation of Senator Paul McLean (AD, NSW) has led to his replacement, under
Section 15 of the Constitution, by Senator Karin Sowada (AD, NSW), a 29 year old archaeologist. She was sworn in on 3rd September 1991. The party that Senator McLean belonged to when elected (the Australian Democrats), and not the electors of NSW that elected him, determined his successor. Those electors are not even officially advised, even by a statutory newspaper advertisement - no wonder the public is apathetic. Under the Hare-Clark PR system Senator McLean's electors alone would have determined his replacement directly, at the previous poll.


The 76-member Senate now has 7 senators, over 9% of its members, unelected by their nominal constituencies. Victoria and Tasmania are the only States whose current senators were all directly elected.


The Commonwealth Constitution's Protection of Direct Election of Individual Candidates at Federal Polls


Many readers may be aware of the requirements of the Commonwealth Constitution that, at both general and periodic elections, senators and MHRs are to be directly chosen by the people (Sections 7 and 24 respectively). These requirements ought to, but do not yet, extend to the filling of Senate casual vacancies.


Although the Constitution may appear to have a clear meaning, it is the power the High Court has been given to interpret it (Section 76) that ultimately matters. It is therefore pleasing that the Court has given its view on this matter and that it has held that ... the Constitution requires electors at a Senate election to vote for individual candidates ...


The extract from the Australian Law Reports shown on Page 4 explains the Court's findings.



1991 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

Tel: (03) 9589 1802, (02) 960 2193 info@prsa.org.au

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