One of the unique features of the Hare-Clark system is how many people can stand at any one election – 137 this time around in the ACT for just 25 possible seats in the Assembly.
Unlike almost any other electoral system, Hare-Clark allows you to pick candidates from within a party group rather than being forced to choose a single person. There’s far more flexibility to vote on personal preference, and for those votes to matter in a multi-member electorate.
But who do you choose?
Who of the half dozen or so candidates from a political party standing in your electorate is exactly the right one for you? Or is there someone else entirely who might be a better match? How do you find out what independents and minor parties really stand for?
This is where the Canberra Alliance for Participatory Democracy (CAPaD) comes to the fore. Formed in 2014, CAPaD aims to “build a social movement to engage citizens and the political system in creating a democratic Canberra”.
During an election campaign, CAPaD reaches out to all political candidates for personal statements about their skills and experience to serve as an MLA or potentially a minister; how they plan to represent their constituents if elected; what measures they would take, if elected, to promote good government and strengthen the responsiveness, accountability and transparency of government in the ACT; and what measures they would take, if elected, to promote and improve informed participation by their constituents in ACT policy development and decision making.
Dr Peter Tait is CAPaD’s secretary and says that plenty of Canberrans complain about planning, health care and public transport, and report feeling that the government is not paying much attention to them.
“The Alliance thinks that the way to fix this is to get the right people for the job; people who will work with the community on issues, on policy formation, on deciding the best options.
“The Alliance invites all candidates to put in a statement to tell voters why they are qualified to be an MLA, how they are going to involve us, the people, in policy development and decision making”, he says.
“In our representative democracy, we rely on our MLAs to work for our interests in the Assembly. We need to know about them as people as much as we need to know their party platforms.”
These statements can be found on the CAPaD website, where 27 statements have been received this far across all five electorates. Eleven of these are from Greens, six from Canberra Progressives, five from ACT Labor, four independents and one Federation Party ACT candidate.
The Canberra Liberals’ campaign director, Josh Manuatu, has written to say that no Liberal candidate would participate.
“Our candidates do not sign individual pledges, furthermore the requested Statement of Democratic Commitment relates to matters that are outside their purview”, the letter says. Mr Manuatu added that while CAPaD had requested information about pledges and donations, that was his responsibility as the registered officer.
“Where candidates or members do not act in accordance with the expectations of the party or community, we take prompt and decisive action,” he wrote.
Dr Tait says that the website has experienced a major increase in traffic as people download candidate statements and election-related material.
“Analysis of the votes received by candidates in the 2016 election reveals that candidates who did put in a statement, compared to those who didn’t, on average received more votes,” he said.
“Candidates are applying for a job as our representative,” concludes Dr Tait. “We should interview them as best we can in this time of COVID so we can choose the best people. CAPaD’s candidate statements are one way to help do that.
“In ACT elections our choice is as much about choosing between candidates of the same party as choosing between parties. So we encourage people to use their power and vote thoughtfully.”