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Proportional representation – Xanadu

By John Hargreaves - 27 April 2015 39

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Anyone see John Warhurst’s article in last week’s Crimes? It was on voting reform. He made a number of good points.

One was that the report from the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) was just released and it would be probably only of interest to “the smallish number of people who find electoral matters riveting.” He’s right on here. Watching paint dry or grass grow sometimes has more appeal.

However, the issues he raises are worth a conversation and I enjoin such with a certain amount of bias. My bias comes not from my membership of a political party, although that did influence my view in the early days. It comes from being in a parliament filled with people elected on the proportional representational basis, a system which I find inherently flawed in terms of having someone in the parliament to represent people, read: go to battle for them.

Remember please the Party! Party! Party! Party, the Sun-Ripened Warm Tomatoes Party. Who can forget the Abolish Self Government Party which had Dennis Stevenson elected and all he did was take advantage of the perks. How about the No Self Government Party, where one of their number ended up as a minister. So much for philosophical commitment!

What about the Community Action Party, one of whose candidates admitted that he had been a member of the Liberal Party for 40 years? Was this a “dummy” party to ensure the election of a conservative government? Good question that!

Proportional representation is a furphy. People should admit that it is really only a vehicle for self -interested “would be if they could be” types who suffer relevance deprivation syndrome.

I don’t see why a group of people whose membership can fit inside an ensuite in a 10 square house should be guaranteed a seat in any parliament.

The system in the ACT allowed a minor party to get 12 per cent of the vote in Molonglo and get elected and what happened? We ended up with a Greens minister! That was a good idea, wasn’t it? Thank God it is now 5 x 5 and people need 16.6 per cent.

But back to actual representation of people in the electorate.

I spent nine-and-a-half years as a non-Executive MLA and saw first-hand how a multi-member electorate functioned. It didn’t.

I was one of five members in a multi-member electorate and can tell you that not all members were all that dedicated to their constituents. Some just couldn’t work in an iron lung and some were only interested in the easy issues and others were MIA a lot of the time.

The problem with this is that if an elected member is one of five in an electorate of 65,000 voters, he or she doesn’t know which 13,000 people are his or hers, so services have to be provided to them all. When some Members don’t provide the service, the load becomes very large and very time consuming. It is also very rewarding but exhausting.

Proportional representation is effective when people are dependent on their brand. The major prizes are always taken by Liberal or Labor with the fringe dwellers picking up the scraps.

When the electorate is unhappy enough, they take it out on the brand and not individual Members although this can (and did, in Brindabella in 2004) happen. Mediocrity can survive and flourish and factional hackery can rise to the top. All major parties are guilty of this one.

Single member electorates mean that the member is solely accountable to the electorate. There is no place to hide. If people are happy with a brand and unhappy with a representative from that brand, they can toss them out and start again. It is a bit harder with proportional representation. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I don’t reckon it is gunna happen soon.

Parliaments filled with cardboard cut-outs are the result of complacency and mediocrity is rewarded by longevity. Parliaments filled with parliamentarians who are committed to their electors and are not professional politicians can come up with good government if given a chance. But fringe parties who are single issue zealots are not the answer.

Proportional representation is a nice idea in a utopian world filled with people of good intention. Xanadu!

What’s Your opinion?


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39 Responses to
Proportional representation – Xanadu
justin heywood 4:41 pm 29 Apr 15

rubaiyat said :

justin heywood said :

switch said :

….weighted voting so your 2nd preference counted as only half a vote etc..

Now that is a good idea.

For heavens sake.

You are not getting “extra” votes, it is the same vote, just your first choices are being eliminated if they don’t get enough to count.

Really is it that difficult to follow?

It is so people can genuinely choose who they want, and not have to second guess what everyone else might be doing.

In the USA, the UK and other so called “democracies” if you don’t vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee you are throwing away your vote and being disenfranchised.

I understand it perfectly well. What you seem to fail to understand is that the majority actually want ‘Tweeledum or Tweedledee’, and the fact that minor parties such as the Greens are happy to exercise power far beyond their electoral mandate (as is the case in the ACT), means that reforms are needed.

justin heywood 4:33 pm 29 Apr 15

….and I’m not surprised the Green Lefties are against reform. Under the current set up, they wield an awful lot of power for a fringe outfit on 10% of the vote.

Grail 1:54 pm 29 Apr 15

Single member electorates work best for the single conservative candidate campaigning against a number of “progressive” candidates. The conservative (representing the dogmatic views of a small proportion of the population) only needs 1 more vote than the next contender. This isn’t hard to arrange, as shown in our last election with the Liberal facade “Animal Justice Party”.

It is Democracy itself, not any particular voting system, which is the Xanadu fantasy based on the delusion that all voters are informed, can make a rational decision, and care enough to do so.

rubaiyat 12:11 pm 29 Apr 15

justin heywood said :

switch said :

….weighted voting so your 2nd preference counted as only half a vote etc..

Now that is a good idea.

For heavens sake.

You are not getting “extra” votes, it is the same vote, just your first choices are being eliminated if they don’t get enough to count.

Really is it that difficult to follow?

It is so people can genuinely choose who they want, and not have to second guess what everyone else might be doing.

In the USA, the UK and other so called “democracies” if you don’t vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee you are throwing away your vote and being disenfranchised.

justin heywood 11:53 am 29 Apr 15

switch said :

….weighted voting so your 2nd preference counted as only half a vote etc..

Now that is a good idea.

switch 8:47 am 29 Apr 15

Optional preferential voting, so your vote exhausts before voting for a major party. Ban “above the line” in the Senate election. Or weighted voting so your 2nd preference counted as only half a vote etc. You’d need computer voting for this one to work, and no doubt endless committees to work out a suitable weighting system, so don’t expect it any time soon.

dungfungus 8:44 am 29 Apr 15

rosscoact said :

dungfungus said :

rubaiyat said :

I was unaware that God was responsible for the Act Electoral System, if so I must take out time to personally thank him.

I have noticed, I just can’t help it, that with the existing system we have ended up with endless Liberal/Labor ministers! That was a good idea, wasn’t it?

But from your piece I take it that you much prefer that Party hacks be pre-selected for Individual seats because that will stop the electors actually choosing whomever THEY want?

Then they can go to the person they didn’t vote for, or want, in the hope that they will be sympathetic to their cause?

Hmmm. Not sure about that one John.

Wrong!
MInister Rattenbury is neither Liberal or Labor, he is Green.

I’m not sure that ‘endless’ can be construed as ‘exclusively’ Dungers

Well if that’s the case, before Rattenbury was a Minister it couldn’t be referred to as “endless” either.

wildturkeycanoe 7:11 am 29 Apr 15

Looking at our electoral results since the early 1900s, there has only once been a decisive majority [only just over 50%] who voted in favor of a party on first preferences. Basically, in my opinion, that means that we have only once had a government that a majority of Australians voted for. Every other time we had a government who represented the minority. Do you call that a fair system, when decisions made by our leaders are for the benefit of less than half of the voters? It has gotten so low that less than a third of the voters got who they voted for.
Presently we have a Liberal government, elected by only 30.08% of the country on first preferences and only in power because they allied with the Nationals. On their own they would have lost, but thanks to our “second chance” system, they hold the reigns. In the A.C.T we didn’t even have a candidate for the Nationals and 42% of us wanted Labor in power. Yes, we may have ended up with them locally, but federally we have whom 58% of Canberra and 69.92% of Australia as a whole didn’t want.
I just don’t understand a system where the loser ends up winning the election, only because they keep on counting till the preferences run out. Eventually a voter will run out of “preferences” on their ballot paper and have to vote for the “other guy”, or party’s preferences get allocated on their behalf, still eventually giving the other side points. With this system the numbers can be stacked to give a party a winning edge.
This present democracy has given us a dysfunctional government, incapable of following through with its plans due to the numbers opposing them being greater. Nobody wins, we all lose.
It’s time for something fairer, something not designed by English centuries ago that doesn’t work properly. Dictatorship as an example would at least give someone power enough to make changes, because without that power the leader and their party is useless, rendering the entire country useless.

rosscoact 11:52 am 28 Apr 15

dungfungus said :

rubaiyat said :

I was unaware that God was responsible for the Act Electoral System, if so I must take out time to personally thank him.

I have noticed, I just can’t help it, that with the existing system we have ended up with endless Liberal/Labor ministers! That was a good idea, wasn’t it?

But from your piece I take it that you much prefer that Party hacks be pre-selected for Individual seats because that will stop the electors actually choosing whomever THEY want?

Then they can go to the person they didn’t vote for, or want, in the hope that they will be sympathetic to their cause?

Hmmm. Not sure about that one John.

Wrong!
MInister Rattenbury is neither Liberal or Labor, he is Green.

I’m not sure that ‘endless’ can be construed as ‘exclusively’ Dungers

watto23 9:37 am 28 Apr 15

justin heywood said :

Can you give me an example where you or any other member put the will of his/her electorate first – that is where a member went against his own party and his own personal view to champion the cause of his/her electorate?

Well to be fair Zed Seselja did want a pool in Lanyon valley while running in the last ACT election, but he showed just how much he supported the valley and quit ACT politics to chase his own dreams and ambitions. But yes the electorates are basically there to make the voting forms smaller in the ACT, which I don’t have a real issue with.

There is a definite problem of electing people to serve the people, but ultimately serving themselves in this country. I’m not sure there are any viable alternatives except for a system that makes it fair to all who stand for election vs just the two major parties.

The ACT system generally works well in that its hard for a party to gain a majority and that means working with independents and other parties. Which is needed for a single house government.

But for every stone thrown at how a senator gets elected from a minor party on preferences, that same stone can be thrown at a political party as well, with many members of both houses getting elected on preferences also.

dungfungus 8:06 am 28 Apr 15

rubaiyat said :

I was unaware that God was responsible for the Act Electoral System, if so I must take out time to personally thank him.

I have noticed, I just can’t help it, that with the existing system we have ended up with endless Liberal/Labor ministers! That was a good idea, wasn’t it?

But from your piece I take it that you much prefer that Party hacks be pre-selected for Individual seats because that will stop the electors actually choosing whomever THEY want?

Then they can go to the person they didn’t vote for, or want, in the hope that they will be sympathetic to their cause?

Hmmm. Not sure about that one John.

Wrong!
MInister Rattenbury is neither Liberal or Labor, he is Green.

rubaiyat 3:41 am 28 Apr 15

I was unaware that God was responsible for the Act Electoral System, if so I must take out time to personally thank him.

I have noticed, I just can’t help it, that with the existing system we have ended up with endless Liberal/Labor ministers! That was a good idea, wasn’t it?

But from your piece I take it that you much prefer that Party hacks be pre-selected for Individual seats because that will stop the electors actually choosing whomever THEY want?

Then they can go to the person they didn’t vote for, or want, in the hope that they will be sympathetic to their cause?

Hmmm. Not sure about that one John.

justin heywood 7:24 pm 27 Apr 15

Correct me if I misunderstand the issue John, but it seems to me that doing away with proportional representation would require either much smaller electorates or many fewer politicians.
In a tiny jursisdiction like the ACT, is there a point to having electorates at all? Why not do away with the largely arbitrary electoral boundaries and elect the 20 or so people who score the most votes?
In the ACT, the reality is;

– the senior people in whichever party is elected make the important decisions, and they tend to think well beyond the boundaries of the various electorates
– once elected, it appears to me that members primarily think in terms of what is best for their party first, their personal predilections second and their actual electorate a distant third.

Can you give me an example where you or any other member put the will of his/her electorate first – that is where a member went against his own party and his own personal view to champion the cause of his/her electorate?

These tiny electorates serve no purpose. They are an anachronistic relic of the days of horse and cart and the wireless telegraph.

wildturkeycanoe 6:59 pm 27 Apr 15

Until we have complete reform of our antiquated British system into something that doesn’t give a losing candidate a second, third, fourth and fifth chance to get in, we will see forever the two major parties with most of the power. The independents will come and go, having a little sway, but as is the case right now nobody will have the power to fulfill their election promises. Perhaps the problem is that with only two parties to choose from [apart from the silly one-off and the Greens] in your local electorate, the odds are that one of those will ultimately be in charge. The numbers are stacked to favor either major party. The other parties don’t have enough seats and never will with our current system, so we will always have either Labour or Liberal, neither of which has a great deal of difference in their policies anyway. You can see why voters are becoming more and more apathetic about governance and voting. The numbers across the country rarely see a great swing to give either one any real credibility and never enough that a majority of the population isn’t opposed to the elected leader.
There it is! The system where the winner is disliked by more people than actually voted for them. The winner actually got less than 50% of the votes. A party that has so many obstacles to get a simple change through parliament, that it becomes absolutely useless and cannot govern the nation.
Reform is definitely needed, but there needs to be a candidate or a party which also has policies that appeal to more than half the country, or otherwise they will always be doing the wrong thing by the majority of the people they lead.

watto23 4:17 pm 27 Apr 15

It depends if you support party politics or not. I personally find no party reflects my views and I often feel for elected party members serving in government being told to vote a certain way.

So its entirely possible to have issues where both liberal and labor do not support it because the party power brokers don’t support it, yet a significant portion of the public do, but still vote for one of the major parties.

The current federal government are very good at complaining about the senate, but at the same time they are pushing some pretty extreme right wing policies. Now i bet they’d have been happy when the senate blocked some of the more extreme left wing policies in the past.

What I think we really need is the ability to not preference every party/candidate. If we only had to vote for 5 people at the next ACT election and the top 5 vote getters are elected, that would be fairer system. It would hurt political parties though who both rely on the quota getting of high profile candidates. Zed at the last election won 2 liberal seats in Brindabella. If it had of been the top 5 vote getters it would have been 2 libs and either 3 lab or 2 lab and a green. Similar thing happened in the other 2 seats. the five most popular candidates didn’t get elected.

We’ll never change the preferential voting though, because the two major parties are at most risk of losing out, but the current house of reps doesn’t necessarily represent the voters and more than the senate does. I don’t think a system exists except maybe 1 vote per person, but this would lead to the current political power mongers losing way too much power. Politicians rarely do things for the good of the people.

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