PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SOCIETY OF
BEAUMARIS VIC 3193
Tel + 61429176725
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SOCIETY AND ITS PURPOSE
INTRODUCTION: The proportional representation
Where there was plurality counting with more
than one vacancy per electoral district, plumping (not voting for
all vacancies), allowed, in a haphazard way, some minority voice, as it still
does in some electorates of the world's oldest continuously operating
legislative assembly, the House of Keys on the Isle of Man. Plumping was, however, often arbitrarily prohibited in
Australian electoral systems, and it was not allowed at pre-1919 Senate elections. Hoag and Hallett's classic 1926
PRSGB&I was the first society in the world that promoted the earliest
forms of the quota-preferential system of proportional representation
allowing direct election of individual candidates, which does not
take place under the inferior proportional systems known as party list
systems, which have become the predominant electoral systems for lower houses
It influenced the founding of Australian PR societies and
helped them by sending its Secretary, John Humphreys, to Tasmania during World
War I where his evidence  to a
Select Committee of Tasmania's Parliament helped defeat a proposed change
from the Hare-Clark system of quota-preferential
proportional representation to a party list system, and also led
to Tasmania's Electoral Act 1918, which prescribed countback
- the filling of casual vacancies in the House of Assembly by the Electoral
Office by re-examination of the ballot-papers that formed the vacating
member's quota. It ensures that all MPs are directly
elected. In 1948 the PRSGB&I advised
Kingdom Local Government: From the
first establishment of local government in England, when William the
Conqueror granted a charter to the City of London in 1067
until the passage of the Municipal Corporations Act
1835, which introduced widespread election by ratepayers, English
municipal councils were not elected by the citizens, but were self-perpetuating
oligarchies with vacancies filled by the council itself. Quota-preferential
PR is still not used for used for local government elections
A statue in
South Australian Local
Government: Catherine Spence recorded,
in Chapter III of her Autobiography, her witnessing,
by an early form of PR in 1840, Adelaide City Council's
first election, as her father was the Town Clerk. It was the world's first public election conducted by PR, and
The PRSA's SA Branch successfully helped persuade the
Olsen Liberal Government when it enacted the Local Government (Elections)
Act 1999 to make quota-preferential proportional
representation the only electoral system to be used in multi-member elections
for local government in
TASMANIA: Tasmania's Attorney-General, in the 1890s, Hon. Andrew Inglis Clark, who sat on the four-member committee of the 1891 National Australasian Convention (see P. 588 of debates)  that, on the S.S. Lucinda, drafted a Bill to Constitute the Commonwealth of Australia, which was adopted by that Convention, spoke about proportional representation (PR) then. Mr Clark did not stand for election to the 1897 Australasian Federal Convention, but a Tasmanian Delegate, Matthew Clarke MHA, spoke there in support of the Hare system, which Tasmania's Hare-Clark electoral system is based on. Tasmanian PRSA members are members of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia (Victoria-Tasmania) Inc.
Start of Hare-Clark:
Andrew Clark achieved legislation for PR elections, with
Hare-Clark's Single Transferable Vote, for part of
Countback, and the Defence and Spread of Hare-Clark:
Hare-Clark, improved by requiring direct election
by countback in 1918, for the filling of casual vacancies,
after the evidence given by John Humphreys in successfully opposing a
retrograde Labor Party proposal to replace Hare-Clark with a party list
system, (see "UNITED KINGDOM" section above),
is Australia's longest-established electoral system. The first result of a countback in
Recognizing that Number of Vacancies to Fill Should be an Odd Number: In 1958, a Tasmanian political scientist, Dr George Howatt, wrote his classic PR paper "Democratic Representation under the Hare-Clark System - The Need for Seven-Member Electorates", which the Government tabled in the House of Assembly in support of its Bill that succeeded in correcting the flaw in the original Hare-Clark system of having an even number of seats per electorate, rather than an uneven number, to ensure a majority outcome in any electorate where a party gained a majority vote, by changing the number of MHAs per electorate from the original number, six, to the recommended uneven number, seven.
of Voters: Dr Howatt's 1979 report, similarly tabled, "Voting
- By Party Direction or Free Choice" was another PR
Rotation: A key part of
Prior to the 1976 Assembly election, the order of candidates' surnames in party columns on the ballot-paper was alphabetical. Tasmania's high incidence of MPs with surnames like Abbott, Adams, Agnew, Amos, Anderson, Batt etc. had started to remind Tasmanians of the ALP's notorious four A's ploy in the 1937 Senate election in NSW, which led to the Menzies Government in 1940 introducing the present listing of Senate candidates' names by mutual consent (effectively by party decision). Tasmania's first change from an alphabetical list of candidates' names in the party columns was fortunately not to adopt that party machine concession, but rather to make the order set by lot, but that was in force for the 1976 and 1979 elections only, as circumstances resulted in the adoption of Robson Rotation in 1979. Unlike the mainland States, where electors in State lower house elections had only one candidate from each party to choose from, the existence of multi-member electorates, with casual vacancies filled by countback since 1918, meant that parties normally stood more candidates than the number of seats they expected to win, thus giving Tasmania's voters a wide choice of candidates within each party. How-to-vote cards listing a party's candidates in a particular recommended order were not used in Tasmanian Assembly elections, and moves to introduce them were nullified by the introduction of Robson Rotation.
Entrenchment by Referendum Needed: Tasmania's Constitution Act 1934
does not prescribe a method for counting votes, or require a referendum or
special majority to alter it, or the electoral system; or even to abolish
either House. Hare-Clark, although very popular, could be abolished by
Tasmanian Local Government: The Groom Liberal Government's Local Government Act 1993 introduced Hare-Clark proportional representation (Section 299) for all Tasmanian municipalities (PR had previously applied just to Hobart City Council), with Section 25 invoking Schedule 3, which specifies the number of councillors in each municipality, and the number of subdivisions in each municipality if there are to be any (Schedule 3 has to date shown no municipalities as being subdivided, but its details may be varied by the Governor on the Minister's recommendation), and with vacancies filled (Section 307), Assembly-style, by countback, for all municipal polls. The Act provided that councillors' terms be for four years, with the term of as near to practicable half the councillors ending every two years.
Partial optional preferential voting applies. As a result of requests from MHAs that had been municipal councillors, ballot-papers for election of councillors have, since 2002, been required to be printed using Robson Rotation by Section 288(2) of the Act, which refers to a prescribed order, and that appears in Schedule 1 of the Local Government (General) Regulations 2005.
Years of Winner-take-all Periodic Upper House Polls Ended in 2006:
That first general election was counted by a multiple,
or bloc, first-past-the-post method, with subsequent elections being the filling
of single vacancies by a first-past-the-post (plurality) method until that was changed to a preferential method in
for Hare-Clark in
of PR for the Legislative Council: Proclamation of the Royal
Assent to the Constitution (Parliamentary
Reform) Act 2003, which enabled alteration of Victoria's Constitution Act 1975
and its Electoral Act 2002
to require quota-preferential proportional representation elections for
the Legislative Council, appeared in Special Government Gazette
S57 of 8th April 2003.
Section 36 of the Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003, on that day, operated to insert a Section 93A into the Electoral Act 2002, which reversed the retrograde trend mentioned above, and cause Victoria's rule on below-the-line voting to differ markedly from the Senate below-the-line rule, by deeming a ballot-paper to be valid provided that the number of preferences indicated is at least equal to the number of candidates to be elected. Likewise, Section 42 of that Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003, on that day, operated to insert a Schedule 1A into the Electoral Act 2002, which provides for the new form of ballot-paper and introduces, in its Section 74(3B)(b), a novel aspect to the Legislative Council ballot-papers that was specifically recommended by the Constitution Commission above, viz. the printing, to the right of each candidate's name on the ballot-paper, after the name of that candidate's party (if any), the name of the suburb or locality at which that candidate is enrolled.
Three major changes made by the Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003 were:
· the insertion of a Section 114A into Victoria’s Electoral Act 2002, which provided for quota-preferential proportional representation counting for Legislative Council polls,
· changes to Section 27 of Victoria’s Constitution Act 1975 to provide for 8 electoral regions each electing 5 MLCs, and
· changes to Section 28 of Victoria’s Constitution Act 1975 to provide for the dissolution of the Legislative Council at the same time as the Legislative Assembly.
Most importantly, changes to Section 18 of Victoria’s Constitution Act 1975 entrenched those Sections 27 and 28 (in Subdivision 1 of Division 5 of Part II of that Act) by requiring any alteration to them, or other sections in that Subdivision, or to Section 18 itself, to be approved by a referendum before they can take effect. This was the first time a requirement for a referendum appeared in Victoria’s Constitution.
The PRSAV-T wrote to all MLAs and MLCs advocating countback, the Robson Rotation, and the omission of the unfortunate Group Voting Tickets provision, but those aspects did not form part of the Act. The Upper House Opposition Leader acknowledged the PRSAV-T's advocacy in his speech (Hansard Page 437) in the House.
Other PRSAV-T Inc. Work: Evidence of PRSA permission to incorporate the Rules for conducting elections by the quota-preferential method from the Society's PR Manual in Schedule 1 of the Health Services (Community Health Centre Elections ) Regulations 2001 appeared as Endnote 1 to those regulations, until those PRSA rules were superseded by a reference to the proportional representation rules in Victoria's Local Government Act 1989.
The PRSAV-T Inc. provides a vote-counting service for organizations, which particularly assists those that conduct proportional representation polls.
's Local Government: As proportional
representation elections had not been prescribed for public elections in
Victoria at the time, the forerunners of the Victorian Electoral Commission had no
experience with counting quota-preferential proportional representation
elections then, so the PRSA's Victorian Branch assisted the officials
counting Victoria 's fortuitous (no explicit statute) first PR municipal elections
for the then City of Richmond
in 1988. When the ALP Government introduced the consolidated Local
Government Act 1989, it continued the traditional 3-year term for all
councillors, but added the option of triennial general elections to the only
option that had previously existed in
Unfortunately, owing to Coalition amendment in the Legislative Council, the ALP's PR option was omitted, so where a municipality used the general election model, with all three seats in each ward being filled as a group, they were filled by the winner-take-all multiple majority-preferential method that had previously been used only by certain municipalities that had chosen not to be divided into wards. That method had been discredited and superseded for Senate elections in 1948 by quota-preferential proportional representation. The method still applies in some municipal elections in the Northern Territory.
Victorian Liberal MPs have
been slower to support PR than their counterparts in other States and the
ACT, but in 1995 the Kennett Liberal Government amended
the Local Government Act 1989 to prescribe quota-preferential PR
election at large for 5 of the 9 seats on Melbourne City Council, which were
filled in 1996. PR in the City of
The PRSAV-T wrote to all of Victoria's Councils in 2003 advocating Hare-Clark features for the PR system that is now mandatory for all multi-vacancy polls, as, by the Local Government (Democratic Reform) Act 2003, the Bracks Labor Government amended the Local Government Act 1989 resulting in its Section 42, which invokes Schedule 3, Part 4A of which provides, for any poll where more than one councillor is to be elected for a ward or electorate, that quota-preferential proportional representation shall apply, thus fortunately discontinuing the previous multiple majority-preferential method (identical to the 1919-46 Senate system), which had lingered until its last use at the 2000 municipal elections.
See the example of the 2000 Strathbogie Shire elections in the last year in which that now discredited multiple majority-preferential method was used, where the candidate with the second highest number of first preference votes was not one of the five candidates elected, but where the candidate with the fewest first preference votes - who would have lost his deposit for failing to obtain at least 4% of first preference votes had he not been elected - was the last candidate elected from the nine standing. Unfortunately since then, elections in that municipality have been held in single-councillor wards only, so the benefits of PR have not yet reached it. Section 37A of that Act invokes Schedule 3A, under which countback is to be used to fill casual vacancies following PR polls.
Single-councillor wards, which can only give winner-take-all results, had never applied in any Australian jurisdiction until the Kennett Government allowed them to be used. Their use in a given municipality is now decided by an utterly ad hoc and rather opaque periodic Representation Review conducted under Sections 219A-219G of the Local Government Act 1989, and requires formal ratification by the Minister for Local Government before it can take effect, but a system like the NSW Constitutional Referendum would be much sounder. The Act regrettably does not require such elementary conditions for electoral parity as each ward being required to have an odd number of councillors, and each ward being required to have the same number of councillors.
The PRSAV-T Inc. has made submissions
to most of those reviews. Of
A PRSAV-T submission
supported a draft of what are now
The City of Melbourne Act 2001
for the City of
Legislative Council of NSW elected by PR: The
first NSW Legislative Council
had all of its members appointed by the Governor-in-Council. It
became part of a bicameral NSW Parliament, from 1856 to 1933, which was reconstituted, by a 1933 referendum,
to be indirectly elected by an electoral college of MPs, whereby the third of
that Council's seats that became vacant at each Assembly election were
elected by PR by an electoral college of all MLAs and the continuing MLCs.
The Heffron ALP Government's proposed abolition of the Legislative Council,
and proposed prohibition of its restoration, was soundly defeated at a 1961 referendum. The PRSA's NSW Branch influenced the Wran Government away from
 a party list system of PR
towards the present direct election by a quota-preferential system
(albeit marred by the imposition of a Group Voting Tickets device) when
that Government introduced a Bill for direct popular voting
for the Legislative Council, which was approved at a 1978 referendum.
The NSW Parliamentary Elections and
Electorates Act 1912 governs
Changes in the NSW Legislative Council electoral system: Exploitation of the weaknesses of the Group Voting Tickets device referred to above reached such a level at the 1999 election that an enormous 720 x 1010 mm ‘tablecloth’ ballot-paper was used for the State-wide electoral district. Retrograde changes to supposedly overcome those weaknesses, including the imposition of a ‘threshold’ of the type being proposed for Senate elections by a NSW Liberal senator, were proposed by the then NSW Treasurer, but fortunately neither of those ill-considered proposals went any further. Legislative changes made another ‘tablecloth’ ballot-paper less likely at the 2003 elections, and included modifying Group Voting Tickets so that they could only relate to the candidates of the party lodging them, and allowing voters to mark preferences in the boxes above-the-line to enable transfers to take effect in that way.
Other PRSA(NSW) Work:
Since 1984, the Branch has assisted in the incorporation of
quota-preferential PR (the Single Transferable Vote) in Schedule 2 to the
Constitution of the University of Sydney Students' Representative Council.
As a result of the Branch's advice a By-law of
PRSA(NSW) Vice-Presidents, Andrew Gunter and Ed Haber, were 2 of the 20 elected for NSW at a national PR poll, to Australia's 1998 Constitutional Convention, and raised proportional representation as an issue of importance for inclusion in the Australian Constitution at that forum.
New South Wales Local Government: In 1928 the Council of the then City of Armidale in
north-eastern NSW became the first municipal council in NSW to be elected by
quota-preferential proportional representation as a result of a local referendum to adopt it.
What is now the PRSA's NSW Branch helped NSW to become the first State in
A flexible and democratic feature in NSW is requirement for a council to hold a municipal Constitutional Referendum, under Sections 15, 16 and 17 of the Act, to enable key aspects of a municipality, such as the number of councillors or wards, or the electoral system, to be changed. Partial optional preferential voting applies.
Mr Jack Wright, PRSA National President, was keynote speaker at the WA Government's 1984 Parliament Week seminar. The unfortunate Unweighted Inclusive Gregory Transfer provision for the Legislative Council, which replicated the present Senate system, has now been replaced with the Weighted Inclusive Gregory Transfer provision in Schedule 1 of Western Australia’s Electoral Act 1907.
Western Australian Local Government: Richard Court's Liberal Government retreated from the preferential system used for local government, and substituted the primitive first-past-the-post procedure, in both its single and multiple form, which ran counter to enlightened electoral systems for Australian local government that began in South Australia in 1840. The Act did not prohibit "plumping", nor did Regulation 35 of Part 7 of Local Government (Elections) Regulations 1997.
The PRSA's WA Branch campaigned for the replacement of this anomalous first-past-the-post throwback by a quota-preferential proportional representation system. In 2006 the then WA Government introduced a Bill for that purpose. A hostile and negative campaign by the Western Australian Local Government Association resulted in that bill being referred to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny, but the bill has now been enacted. Regulation 35 of WA's Local Government (Elections) Regulations 1997 requires the full marking of preferences for a vote to be valid.
The WA Local Government Association has continued its campaign against the excellent new quota-preferential proportional representation system now provided for in Schedule 4.1 of WA's Local Government Act 1995. The current WA Liberal Government has announced that it will legislate to revert to the previous crude first-past-the-post procedure so that it will take effect for the October 2009 municipal polls.
The electoral provisions for
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY: The electoral system used for the first self-government election, in 1989, instituted by the then Labor Federal Government, was a modified party list form of proportional representation called the Modified d'Hondt system. It was a highly unsatisfactory system that was widely ridiculed and regarded as unfair. Its last use was at the 1992 election, as the Federal Government had acknowledged its failure, and had decided to hold a plebiscite in conjunction with the election to enable ACT electors to indicate which of two alternative replacement systems they preferred for future ACT polls. That 1992 Australian Capital Territory plebiscite had 65% of voters favouring a Hare-Clark form of PR over the alternative of 17 single-member electorates. The PRSA's ACT Branch campaigned vigorously for that poll, and then later to successfully encourage inclusion of major unalloyed Hare-Clark provisions (Robson Rotation, countback, absence of Group Voting Tickets), as opposed to the inferior stage-managed Senate-style provisions that the ACT Government initially proposed, in the ACT Electoral Act 1992 amended in April 1994. A 16-1 Assembly vote in December then passed the Proportional Representation (Hare-Clark) Entrenchment Bill 1994. Approved by 65% of ACT voters at a 1995 referendum, the resulting Act now prohibits changes to the major Hare-Clark aspects of the electoral law without a two-thirds Assembly majority or a referendum.
NORTHERN TERRITORY OF AUSTRALIA:
The Electoral Act 2004
of the Northern Territory specifies preferential
voting in the single-member districts prescribed by Section 13(4) of the
Commonwealth's Northern Territory
(Self-Government) Act 1978 (which is effectively the
Territory's Constitution), and also specifies a requirement for voters to
indicate all preferences. The ballot-papers have, for
Territory Local Government: Local
government elections in the Northern Territory are held under the Local
Government (Electoral) Regulations
, which prescribe a winner-take-all
majority-preferential system if there is only one seat per electorate, but
the multiple majority-preferential system, which became discredited, and was abandoned
for Senate elections in 1948, where there is more than one seat per
electorate (See Sections 3 and 4 of Schedule
2). Following the abandonment of that system for multiple
TERRITORY OF NORFOLK ISLAND:
Section 20 of the Legislative Assembly Act
1979 of Norfolk Island now prescribes, for the election of the
Territory's 9-member Legislative Assembly by a single Territory-wide
electoral district, cumulative voting,
which is a crude, inferior procedure that was used in Cape Colony (South
Africa) in the 19th Century, and by the U.S. State of Illinois from 1870 to
1980, until Illinois's only constitutional change ever effected by a
replaced it with the even worse 'first-past-the-post' system that all the
other U.S. States use. Unfortunately a 1982
As it uses non-preferential, non-transferable ballots, votes are wasted by some candidates receiving more than a Single Transferable Vote PR quota, and others receiving less, with no procedure for transferring such votes to contribute to a quota. The Government's Web site sometimes shows voting figures, such as the 2001 results, which showed that at that poll (at others it could be worse), 36.5% of the 9,243 votes on the 1,027 valid ballot-papers completed by the Territory's voters made no contribution to electing anybody, but with STV (quota-preferential) PR, in this case of 9 vacancies being filled by the votes of one electorate, the wasted fraction of the votes would be only 9.9%, and never more.
COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA: Members
in both Houses of the first Commonwealth
Parliament (1901-03), which was opened in May 1901
by the Duke of Cornwall and York, had been elected by the systems for the
Lower Houses of the Parliament in their State (Sections 9, 10 & 31 of the Australian Constitution). Quick and
Garran's "Anotated Constitution
of the Australian Commonwealth" gives background on the
Tasmania's first federal by-election,
to replace an MHR, had the whole State as a single electorate, as the Federal
Parliament had not yet used Section 31 to pass an
Electoral Act. The House of Representatives passed the Barton Government's
Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902, which specified quota-preferential PR
for Senate elections. That was the only form of PR that would satisfy the
requirement of Section 7 of the
Constitution that senators "be directly chosen
by the people", but the Senate, which had, except for the senators
1. Full Marking of All Preferences, Partial Optional Preference Marking, or Fully Optional Preference Marking:
The 1901 election of the six senators for NSW gave a dramatic early warning about the need to make ballot-papers and their use comfortably manageable by a wide range of voters, as 38,674 voters (up to 17.5% of the ballots cast) cast informal (invalid) ballots because, with 50 candidates, and with only 6 senators to be elected, many voters failed to strike out at least 44 names of the candidates they did not want, as was the law for NSW colonial polls in small single-member electorates, which law applied for the first NSW Senate poll, but not later polls. The unavailability of plumping, under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902, required that a voter had to indicate a vote for the same number of candidates as there were vacancies in order for the completed ballot-paper to be accepted as valid.
Plumping, in which voters in multi-member electorates could, under earlier first past the post multiple votes systems, which are still the common law voting system, vote for fewer candidates than there were vacancies, and hence concentrate their vote on fewer candidates, even just one, had in certain earlier colonial and, as has recently been reverted to on the Isle of Man, allowed some rudimentary proportionality, as did the 1925-94 Japanese Lower House system of multi-member districts with a Single Non-transferable Vote. The method of indicating an Australian Senate vote from 1902-17 was, unlike the 1901 poll, the placing of a cross (X) against the name of each candidate voted for. The 1917 periodic Senate election, in which W.M. Hughes's Nationalist Party won all Senate seats in all States, was the last time the first past the post multiple vote was used for Senate elections.
NSW Senator Hon. Albert Gardiner was an advocate of proportional representation for Senate elections. As the prevailing winner-take-all electoral system had resulted in the Nationalist Party gaining all the18 Senate seats to be filled in 1917 and, 17 of the 18 seats (Albert Gardiner was the only Labor candidate elected) in 1919, for the whole of Australia, he was the only Labor senator in the 36-member Senate from 1920 until 1923. He held the position of Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, even though he had no party colleagues to lead. His solitary position, despite Labor's having gained 43.7% of the national Senate vote in 1917, and 42.8% in 1919, was a stark testament for the need for proportional representation. He made a 12 hour speech in the Senate in the debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 introduced by W.M.Hughes's Nationalist Government. It remains the longest speech ever made there, as time limits requiring shorter speeches were imposed in 1919. That consolidated Act, which is still the Principal Act for federal elections, changed the electoral system for MHRs from a first past the post to its present majority-preferential system, but the Senate system was not changed until the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1919 replaced the previous multiple first past the post system (see 1917 NSW example) with a multiple majority-preferential system (see 1919 NSW example). It also provided that, to cast a valid vote, voters had to indicate preferences for a number of candidates equal to one more than twice the number of vacancies to be filled.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1934 introduced by the Lyons United Australia Party Government began what many now see to be an oppressive and ridiculously unnecessary requirement that, to cast a valid vote, a voter in an election in a multi-member electorate must indicate a preference for each of the candidates, regardless of how many there might be. When the Chifley ALP Government introduced the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1948 to change the Senate electoral system from a multiple majority-preferential system to a quota-preferential system, it insisted on continuing that provision despite it being imposed on a PR system, which is a very different system from the multiple majority-preferential system to which the provision was originally applied, and despite the proven success of Hare-Clark's partial optional preferential voting Tasmania-wide since 1907. The Menzies Coalition Opposition unsuccessfully moved to amend the Bill to provide instead for partial optional indication of preferences, and the Government insisted that a voter must indicate all preferences on the ballot-paper for it to be valid. The Whitlam Labor Government proposed partial optional indication of preferences in 1974, but its lack of a Senate majority prevented it legislating for that, as the Coalition had, by then, changed its view on the matter. It is ironic that the PR system in the Commonwealth Electoral Bill 1902 introduced by the Barton Government, and rejected by the 1902 Senate, had provided for fully optional marking of preferences. The statutory requirement to mark all preferences for a valid vote, which has never applied in Tasmanian State elections, has given rise, in mainland Australia, to the widespread use by political parties of How-to-vote cards.
2. Senate's 2 former Winner-take-all Electoral Systems (1903-17 & 1919-46) & Proportional Representation (1949- ):
The 1929 Royal Commission on
the Constitution , whose members
were appointed on the advice of S.M.Bruce's Nationalist Government,
recommended inclusion of PR in the Constitution, but
that was not implemented. The Proportional Representation
Society of Victoria held a
A 1948 Hansard  records the Attorney-General, Rt. Hon. H.V. Evatt KC, introducing his Bill that amended the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to provide for PR for the Senate, and acknowledging the help of 'the Proportional Representation Society of England'. A 1948 letter from the Proportional Representation Society of Victoria congratulated the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. J. B. Chifley, on the Bill that introduced PR. Since then, the PRSA has monitored the Senate system - the world's largest scale quota-preferential PR election. PR is the longest operating electoral system used for Senate elections. The PRSA has monitored other Australian elections also. Regrettably there is no constitutional or other entrenchment requiring approval at a referendum, or even an absolute majority vote in both houses of Parliament, before the Senate's PR system can be weakened or abolished.
3. Casual Vacancies Setback: Senator Peter Rae, and some other Tasmanian Liberal senators that had a good understanding of the Hare-Clark system and its countback procedure for filling casual vacancies in a PR system, agreed with the PRSA that the Constitution Alteration (Senate Casual Vacancies) Bill 1977, in ostensibly seeking to modify the original form of Section 15 of the Constitution, which provided for the filling of Senate casual vacancies, to make it consistent with the PR system used since 1949, should have used countback, rather than the system of nomination on a party basis that replaced that original 1901 provision. They advocated that replacement senators should be elected by the people via countback, and not, as proposed in the Bill, by the Constitution requiring State Parliaments to endorse the nominees of political parties, during the debate on the Bill.
Countback would have ensured direct election of all replacement senators, but those senators' advocacy failed to change the Bill, so senators filling casual vacancies since 1977 have been, regrettably, indirectly elected since approval of the Bill at a 1977 referendum produced an alteration resulting in the present form of Section 15 of the Constitution. From the adoption of the original Constitution until that change in 1977, Section 15 had simply prescribed that casual vacancies had to be filled, until the next periodic or general federal election, by a person appointed as the relevant State Parliament, or until it sat, the State Governor, saw fit.
Since then, senators directly elected by the people, such as Senator Michael Tate (ALP, TAS) and Senator John Herron (Liberal, QLD), have resigned after serving only a month or so of their 6-year term, and their places have been filled for nearly 6 years by persons unelected by the people. The looseness of the present form of Section 15 of the Constitution has allowed other anomalies such as:
In 1997 the Senate consisted of senators over 20% of whom had not been elected by the people
The 1977 change was motivated by the breach in 1975, by the NSW and Queensland Governments, of the convention that a person appointed to replace a senator would always be a person that belonged to the party of that vacating senator. The practical importance of that convention had increased greatly since proportional representation had been introduced in 1949, but the convention was originally accepted after a 1907 High Court decision that voided the purported appointment, under Section 15 of the Constitution, by the South Australian Parliament in 1907 of the Hon. James O'Loghlin, a Labour Party member, as a senator to replace Mr Joseph Vardon, an endorsed Anti-Socialist Party member, whose election at the 1906 periodic election of senators was, in 1907 after a recount, declared void by the High Court acting as the Court of Disputed Returns. That High Court decision led to the 1908 Special Election in South Australia, at which Messrs O'Loghlin and Vardon were the only candidates. A separate 1907 High Court action, the King versus the Governor of South Australia, also touches on this matter. Mr Vardon was elected to fill the vacancy that had not been filled at the 1906 periodic election, and that the High Court had declared was not a casual vacancy subject to being filled under Section 15 of the Constitution, as had been attempted by the Parliament.
4. Gregory Fractional Transfer variant replaces Random Selection Transfer: The Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform of the Federal Parliament in 1983 appeared to have been concerned about potential difficulties with the procedure for transfer of surplus votes by random selection that had applied at Senate scrutinies since the changes made by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1948. The narrow margin of 560 votes (0.089% of the total formal vote) between Jack Evans (Australian Democrats) and the final senator elected, Noel Crichton-Browne (Liberal), in the 22nd and final count in the October 1980 Senate poll for Western Australia and the potential problems that Mr Evans's appeal to the Court of Disputed Returns might have raised if it had been successful and the Court had had to consider ordering a recount of the poll. With a random element in the scrutiny, there is no guarantee that a recount would resolve the doubt in a close finish. The Committee's recommendation led to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 being amended in 1983 so that an Unweighted Inclusive Gregory fractional transfer is now prescribed in Section 273(9-12), replacing the original Senate procedure of random selection of the number of surplus ballots for transfer at full value.
The original Gregory fractional transfer, which Hare-Clark has always used, is the transfer of all ballot-papers showing a particular first preference, but at a fractional value appropriate to the level of the surplus. When it is applied to transfers of surpluses other than those arising from first preferences, it applies only to the last parcel of votes received, whereas the inclusive variants apply to all parcels. Victorian Liberal Senator Alan Missen had Hansard in 1983  incorporate a PRSA letter expressing concern about the disadvantages of the Unweighted Inclusive Gregory fractional transfer introduced then, which still applies. The PRSA notes that the standard computer counting at Senate scrutinies would allow the substitution of a Weighted Inclusive Gregory fractional transfer, as discussed in a paper by Professor David Farrell, with advantage.
Schedule 1 of the Western Australian Electoral Act 1907 prescribes a Weighted Inclusive Gregory fractional transfer. See in particular Clause 5 of that Act's Schedule 1. A submission in 2008 to the federal Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters by the South Australian Branch of the PRSA proposed that Senate counts should use a Weighted Inclusive Gregory fractional transfer instead of the present unweighted transfer.
5. Group Voting Tickets Setback: Changes in 1983 to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 introduced the unfortunate Group Voting Tickets provision in Section 211. In his 1983 Senate speech, in which he included the letter from the PRSA President referred to above, Victorian Liberal Senator Alan Missen referred to his concerns about the ALP Government's Group Voting Ticket proposal, as did NSW Liberal Senator Sir John Carrick, NSW Nationals Senate Leader Senator Douglas Scott, and Tasmanian Independent Senator Brian Harradine. The above-the-line Group Voting Tickets are the latest in a history of ballot-paper designs beginning in 1940 that have led to nearly all the voters at Senate elections endorsing their party's ticket rather than having to be persuaded of the virtues of the various candidates and choosing them explicitly, as fortunately still occurs with Hare-Clark. That hyperlink shows how Tasmania's Parliament rejected Group Voting Tickets, with the result that first preference votes at Tasmanian Assembly elections are not highly concentrated on just two candidates, as occurs at Senate elections, leaving nearly all elected senators receiving only a tiny number of first preference votes.
That concentration of first preference votes on a single candidate of a party, which Dr H V Evatt called regimentation of the vote, preceded Group Voting Tickets and even the Senate's proportional representation system. It perversely increases minor party representation at the expense of that of the major parties, as described in a 1988 article in The Canberra Times, but this seems either not to be understood by the parties, or their operatives prefer instead to sacrifice some representation in order to retain their power of controlling the order in which candidates appear on Group Voting Tickets.
Group Voting Tickets have also led to candidates of very small parties being elected as a result of several larger parties all placing them on relatively high positions on their tickets and thus having them elected, when it is clear that their total vote without that help would have left them unelected. A recent example of that was the election of Senator Steve Fielding of the Family First Party, with 1.85% of first preference votes, with the remaining 12.43% of the vote needed for his quota of 14.29% being nearly all the result of transfers from candidates outside his party.
Challenges in the High Court, to one aspect of Group Voting Tickets in the 1984 case brought by C J McKenzie, and the 1999 case brought by D K Ditchburn, failed. Above-the-line voters have a far less onerous task, and far less chance of voting informally, than below-the-line voters, as formal above-the-line votes require just a single mark, whereas below-the-line votes must have nearly every box marked correctly, although partial optional preferential voting below-the-line has now been introduced for elections to the Legislative Council in Victoria. The percentage of below-the-line Senate voters in NSW and Victoria is now only about 4%, but in the two Senate electorates where Hare-Clark is used for Assembly elections, Tasmania and the A.C.T, the awareness of the voters of the merits of an untramelled quota-preferential PR with Robson Rotation keeps the below-the-line vote at about 20%.
The leader of the Greens Party, Senator Bob Brown, introduced his Commonwealth Electoral (Above-the-Line Voting) Amendment Bill 2008 into the Senate in a proposal to have the above style of above-the-line voting replaced with a system where above-the-line voters would, for a valid vote, have to indicate their preference between groups by numbers in the squares above-the-line. Each square would relate to its party's candidates only, in an order lodged by the party, and no party or group could lodge an order of preferences to be given effect to except for the candidates of that party, which is a significant improvement on the complete ordering a a voter's ballot that Group Voting Tickets presently entail. The marking of later preferences among parties would not be fully optional, as a minimum number of party squares would be prescribed to be marked for an above-the-line vote to be a formal vote. In election campaigns, parties would still urge voters to vote above-the-line, and that pressure would still be re-inforced by the existing and daunting unnecessary requirement for voters below-the-line to mark a preference for virtually every individual candidate, regardless of how many there are (there were 78 candidates at the NSW Senate poll in 2004). Senator Brown's Bill would not abolish the political parties' self-serving party-oriented above-the-line device in respect of any particular party's block of candidates, and would also fail to remove the existing daunting and unjustifiable requirement for below-the-line voters to mark virtually every square in order to be able to cast a valid vote, and thus be at least even-handed, by making the workloads of both categories of voter able to be more equal.
6. Failed Campaign to Stop Transfers to Candidates whose First Preference Vote or Party Total is below a ‘Threshold’: In 1998-9, a NSW Liberal, Senator Helen Coonan, campaigned for a change to the Senate's electoral system that would have required the exclusion from the count of any candidate that failed to gain a prescribed fractional part of a quota, which she termed a 'threshold', or whose party failed to gain such a part. The aim of her proposal was to prevent candidates of parties with a low level of first preference vote support from accruing votes transferred from other less successful candidates, and ultimately achieving a quota of votes and being elected. The effect of the proposal would be to reduce the proportionality of the counting system. The weakness in her failed plan (see Endnotes No. 50, which refers to a 1999 letter to The Age), is its arbitrary redirection of voters' ballot preferences away from one or more of their higher preferences to one of their lower preferences, which is manifestly against the plainly expressed wishes of such voters.
7. Why the Number of Senators to be Elected should be an Odd Number: From 1984 six senators were to be elected from every State at a periodic election of senators, instead of the previous five. Until 1948 there were three to be elected, and then that number was increased to five, both of those numbers being an odd number. The disadvantage and inadvisability, with a proportional representation electoral system, of setting the number of places to be filled as an even number were not unknown, as the 1951, 1974 and 1975 "double dissolution" elections, at which it is unavoidable that an even number of senators is to be elected in each State, were held after the adoption of PR for Senate elections.
The advantage of setting an odd number is that an absolute majority of votes for a given party, however slight, produces an absolute majority of seats for that party whereas, with an even number of places, an absolute majority of votes for a party does not, unless it is high enough, produce an absolute majority of seats for that party. If the absolute majority is not large enough to produce an absolute majority of an even number of seats, the party gaining such an absolute majority of votes will only gain half the number of available seats, and the party, or parties, that jointly gain only a minority of the seats, will gain the other half of the seats, which is unsatisfactory.
The remedy for this problem is to arrange matters so that the number of places to be filled is an odd number, but the requirement of the nexus provision in the first sentence of Section 24 of the Constitution has made that onerous and expensive as the size of the Parliament has increased. The greatly increased difficulty, with there no longer being an odd number of places to be filled in each State at periodic elections of senators, for either major party to obtain a majority of seats in any State has led to increased demands for a relaxation of the careful safeguards of Section 57 of the Constitution, which provides for procedures that can ensue following a disagreement between the two Houses of the Parliament.
There is also the fact that, with an even number of places to be filled in each State, a party that gains half of the quotas of Senate votes in all States at two successive periodic elections (42.9% of the vote), or a single election after a dissolution of the Senate (46.2% of the vote), can thereby gain half the seats in the Senate, and thus deprive an opposing party that might have gained Government by the vagaries of the single-member electorate system used for elections to the Lower House of a majority of Senate seats, thus enabling it to reject any Government Bill it chooses. A change to the law to set the numbers for periodic Senate elections to be odd numbers would be desirable, but a further change to provide for PR for the House of Representatives would be better still.
8. A Sounder Basis for Dividing Senators into Two Classes after a Dissolution of the Senate: Section 13 of the Australian Constitution requires the Senate, at its first meeting after its dissolution, to divide the newly-elected senators into two classes of equal numbers, with one class to be long-term senators, with a six-year term, and the other class to be short-term senators, with a three-year term. From the first election onwards that division has been effected by a resolution of the Senate that had the first class consist of the half of the senators first declared elected in each Senate electorate made long-term senators, with the rest of the senators being made short-term senators.
That long-standing practice was examined by the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters, which reported to the Parliament that the practice had been appropriate under the Senate's previous two winner-take-all electoral systems, but was inequitable under the current system of proportional representation. It therefore recommended that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 should be amended to include a new section that required the Australian Electoral Commission to conduct, after each election after a dissolution of the Senate, a recount of the vote to determine, in each Senate electorate, which candidates would have been elected if only half the number of vacancies were to be filled, and to report that to the Parliament. That new section, Section 282, was added to the Act.
At the first opportunity to implement the new system, the Hawke Labor Government, which had supported it at the Joint Select Committee, and had supported the introduction of the necessary Section 282 of the Act, failed to support it in the Senate. The chairman of that Committee, ALP Senator Robert Ray, spoke in favour of the new section, as Page 3220 of theshows. The Coalition Opposition supported the new approach that the Hawke Government had developed but, at the first opportunity to implement it, when the Senate met on 15th September 1987 and proceeded to its task of dividing the newly-elected senators into two classes, the Australian Democrats senators joined with the Hawke Labor Government senators to defeat an Opposition motion to implement the new procedure that the Hawke Government had developed, which reversal in attitude appears to have resulted from an assessment that avoiding implementing the reform would result in fewer long-term senators for the Coalition Opposition than would occur if the reformed procedure was adopted.
Liberal Senator Jim Short's speech advocating the use of the reformed procedure appears on Page 96 of the Senate Hansard of 15th September 1987 and continues on Page 155 of the Senate Hansard of 16th September 1987. The speech by the Australian Democrats spokesman, Senator Michael Macklin, shown on Page 156 of the Senate Hansard of 16th September 1987, reveals quite frankly that the Australian Democrats' vote against implementing the new system was based on a consideration of which system would yield more long-term senators for them for the coming term. Until the Senate's carte blanche to decide which senators after a dissolution of the Senate will gain the benefit of the longer term has been superseded by an alteration of Section 13 of the Constitution along the lines of the reform that the Hawke Government had originally advocated, it would seem that party political advantage will continue to override considerations of electoral propriety.
9. Quota-preferential PR for the House of Representatives: The Australian Constitution does not require that electoral divisions for House of Representatives elections are single-member divisions. The final sentence of Section 29 states that, "In the absence of other provision, each State shall be one electorate", which provision applied in the case of the first election of MHRs for South Australia and Tasmania, although South Australia used a multiple first-past-the-post system, whereas Tasmania used Hare-Clark PR.
The PRSA suggested improvements to Australian Democrats Senator David Vigor's Commonwealth Electoral (Representation of the People) Amendment Bill 1985, which sought to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to provide for quota-preferential proportional representation for House of Representatives elections. As Section 24 of the Constitution requires that at general elections MHRs be "directly chosen by the people of the Commonwealth", quota-preferential PR is fortunately the only form of PR that can be used for electing MHRs at a general election. Hansard  records Australian Democrats Senator John Coulter drawing the Senate's attention to the PRSA's 1993 Federal Election Analysis. The PRSA has produced PR Analyses of House of Representatives polls for 1996-2004.
Mr Michael Organ MHR, a Greens Party member elected at a by-election in the division of Cunningham, introduced in the House of Representatives, on 1st December 2003, his Royal Commission (House of Representatives Elections) Bill 2003, which provided for the appointment of a Royal Commission to investigate the implementation of a system of proportional representation for the House of Representatives but, without support by any other political party in that House, it did not proceed beyond its first reading (Hansard Page 23318), and has now lapsed.
10. Forestalling a 1988 Constitution Alteration Blunder: Insistent PRSA representations to the Australian Democrats, and discerning support by their Senator John Coulter, led the Senate , even though the House of Representatives had to be recalled just to pass the amended bill, to omit from Clause 5 of the Hawke ALP Government's Constitution Alteration (Fair Elections) 1988, a proposed and potentially disastrous, Section 29(2) of the Constitution, "Electoral divisions: The number of members shall be the same for each division of a particular State", that - had the ensuing referendum unfortunately passed without that omission having been made - would have, for no good or discernable reason, removed quota-preferential PR as a practicable constitutional option for House of Representatives elections. The referendum was one of four alterations proposed, and each failed to achieve a majority in any State.
11. PRSA Member Successfully Suggested Improvement to Commonwealth Electoral Act: Section 213(1) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 owes, since 1984, its present wording to a recommendation by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters made after a PRSA member and statistician, Mrs Alison Harcourt, proposed in evidence to that Committee that the existing legislative provision for achieving the random ordering of candidates' names on House of Representatives ballot-papers, and the random ordering of party columns from left to right on Senate ballot-papers, was insufficiently rigorous, and should be replaced by the double randomization method that she proposed, and that is now provided for in Section 213(1).
PR for the 1997 Constitutional Convention Election:
PRSA advice to the Government on its use of a quota-preferential proportional
representation system for electing half the members of a Constitutional
Convention at a 1997 national postal ballot was acknowledged in Hansard
of 24th June 1997 .
Two PRSA(NSW) officers were among the 20 people elected
to represent NSW. This was only the second time in
13. Representation and Institutional Change Conference: PRSA representatives attended this August 1999 Conference, to commemorate 50 years of PR for the Senate, in Parliament House, Canberra, run by the Department of the Senate (see Item 34) and the Australian National University.
14. Formation of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia: State bodies promoting quota-preferential electoral systems have varied their names occasionally, and once operated informally as PRSA Branches. The PRSA Constitution took effect on 1st January 1982. The PRSA's former quarterly newsletter, Quota Notes, begun in December 1975 as the NSW Branch newsletter, became the national society's newsletter in September 1983 with its Issue No. 31. The last issue of Quota Notes was produced in March 2006. The PRSA's first National President, Mr J.F.H.Wright, wrote the informative book, Mirror of the Nation's Mind - Australia's Electoral Experiments (available for the PRSA), and had earlier been recognized for his international contributions by being elected a Vice-President of the Electoral Reform Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He died on 13th May 1988. See the table of PRSA National Officers since the PRSA's inception. PRSA Presidents to date have been:
Mr Jack Wright (NSW) 1982-85
Mr Geoffrey Goode
Mr Bogey Musidlak (ACT) 1994-
Neither of those methods of
electing MPs has the advantage of quota-preferential PR, by which all MPs
have the same basis of election, each being directly elected
by a quota of votes from a multi-member district. A 54% vote confirmed MMP at a 1993 national referendum.
On 25th July 1997,
New Zealand Local Government: New Zealand, perhaps as a consolation prize to its
citizens for going no further than its hybrid party-list system for national
elections, has taken the bold step of providing a very advanced form of
computerized quota-preferential counting as an option for local governments.
The system used is the Meek system, which is designed to
overcome some of the relatively minor and infrequently-experienced anomalies
that exist with simpler systems for counting quota-preferential proportional
representation elections. The Meek system, devised by Dr Brian Meek, a member
of the Electoral Reform Society in
At Prince Edward Island's failed 2005 referendum, 36% of voters favoured MMP, with the only alternative being offered being the existing single-member system.
At Ontario's failed 2007 referendum, 37% of voters favoured MMP, with the only alternative offered being the existing single-member system. A majority vote for MMP was gained in fewer that 5% of the 107 provincial electorates.
The results should discourage
parliaments from holding further MMP referendums, but the more
publicly-acceptable quota-preferential PR could gain the extra 3 percentage
points needed to succeed in
MALTA: The constitution of Malta, Section 56(1), now requires proportional
representation, with the Single Transferable Vote, and electorates with an
uneven number of members between 9 and 15, and Section 66(2) requires a 2/3
vote of Malta's MPs for the deletion of that requirement. Unlike
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: The Constitution of
the Republic of Ireland, which was adopted at a 1937 referendum, requires
that both the lower house (Article 16.2) and the upper house (Article 18.5)
of the parliament must be elected by proportional representation with the Single Transferable Vote, although
only the lower house is directly elected by the people. Two referendums to
replace the requirement for proportional representation with a single-member
electorate system each failed. The last such referendum, in 1968, showed that
support for PR had increased to above 60%.
The Center for Voting and Democracy, in Washington DC, has acknowledged on its Web site the PRSA as the originator of the Gerrymander Wheel, which convincingly demonstrates the absurdity of single-member electorates (the PRSA called a large-scale version of it the Berrymander wheel in the ACT, after an MLA opposing Hare-Clark PR during our successful campaign there). An electronic version of the wheel appears on the Center's website, and can be downloaded from it. The word "gerrymander" originates from a cartoon that ridiculed the tortuous shape (said to look like a salamander) of an electoral district whose boundaries had been contrived for partisan political advantage, and that Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts (he was a signatory to the US Declaration of Independence, and later became James Madison's Vice-President) had approved.
United States Local Government: Quota-preferential proportional representation was used for elections to a number of municipal councils in the United States, including New York City, but the mid-20th Century fear of communism in the USA, and the election of even one minority councillor, appears to have led to all but one municipality, the City of Cambridge, in Massachusetts, where Harvard University is located, reverting to plurality counting. Attempts continue to extend PR for municipalities.
1. Electoral Reform Society of
'The Best System - An account of the first hundred years of the Electoral Reform Society’, ISBN 0 903278 09 X
2. Catherine Spence, A Plea for Pure Democracy, 1861, Reprinted by the PRSA, ISBN 0 9599728 7 0
3. Quick, J & Garran, R R, The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, 1901, Part IV(7)
5. Commonwealth of
6. Hansard: House of Representatives, 16th April 1948, Page 965, and 29th April 1948, Page 1300
7. Hansard: Senate 30th November 1983 Pages 3054-3055
8. Hansard: Senate 1st June 1988 Pages 3324-3335
9. Hansard (Proof): Senate 19th August 1993 Pages 308-309
10. Hansard: Senate 24th June 1997 Page 5026
and audio tape of Address by
from PRSAV-T Inc.