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July 2, 2022

Proportional Representation – Party List is a much fairer electoral system

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The consequences of the electoral system of a country are rarely much of an issue for political scientists and political economists nowadays. This is certainly the case in Australia! But they were in the second half of the 19th century for some well-known British, German and French political philosophers.

The consequences of extending the vote from limited wealthy elites to all citizens, in various stages, and the systems to be used for that purpose had major consequences for the distribution and generation of wealth. This article suggests that there is in fact a close practical connection between system, democracy, economy and wealth distribution. Public policy in respect of electoral system affects all of these aspects.

There is room for major reforms in Australia. The Single Member District electoral system (SMD) should be replaced by Proportional Representation – Party List (PR–PL), based on multi-member districts. The negative adversarial discourse would be replaced by cooperation and coalition formation of parties – and therefore result in genuine majority government instead of government by the majority faction of one major party.

Activist groups campaigning for electoral change

SMD is still used in most English-speaking countries, except in New Zealand and the new South Africa which changed to PR–PL in the 1990s. I concentrate on Australia here, but also make some comments on the US, and the UK where disenchantment with SMD has led to activist groups campaigning for major electoral change.

In Australia, in many seats, the MP does NOT represent the majority – and the minority is often NOT represented by the opposite party either. It is nonsense to claim that a local MP represents all voters in an electoral district while the combative adversity of the major parties is on display daily! Overall, the SMD system results in a two-party adversarial system. Independents mostly emerge by breaking away from a major party.

Even the Greens, receiving between nine per cent and 14 per cent nationally, only have had one MP in the federal Parliament, in two decades. Just recently, during the vital new energy debate prior to the Glasgow meeting, the Liberal-Nationals Party (LNP) of Queensland virtually held the conservative coalition government to ransom.

Shocking unfairness in Australia’s electoral system

The Greens received 10.40 per cent of the votes in 2019 and, again, ended up with just one seat. In stark contrast the LNP of Queensland received 8.67 per cent of the votes and ended up with 23 seats! The National Party in NSW and Victoria added another 10 seats federally for a percentage of 4.51 per cent. The shocking unfairness in Australia’s electoral system is now resulting in serious national consequences internationally! SMD is the major cause of this situation.

Clearly, the desire for the representation of diversity has grown steadily in Australia. Since the 1990s the number of seats decided by preferences has increased markedly. Thirty-one in 1983, sixty-three in 1993, eighty-seven in 2001, in 2016 an astonishing 102 out of 150 seats. In 2019 only 18 seats out of 151 seats were declared on first preferences. A report on first preference percentages tells a similar story: Coalition 41.44 per cent, ALP 33.34 per cent, Greens 10.40 per cent. Neither major party has an overall mandate.

The economics of pork barrelling

The economics of pork barrelling, the direct result of the Single Member District electoral system, of course makes no sense at all. It is quite ridiculous how scarce funds are unethically spent on these party political objectives aiming to swing seats to either major party.

The principal alternative to SMD is PR–PL, used in 85 countries. It is based on multi-member districts. This is a proven system. It is unlike the Hare-Clark PR system used in Tasmania, the Senate, ACT and four State Legislative Councils. That system (Hare) was first recommended in the UK in the mid-19th century and later adapted by Clark for Tasmania (1907). Although also based on multi-member districts it is suitable only for small legislatures where voters know the candidates reasonably well. It is hardly used elsewhere.

Most Australians do not know PR–PL well – isolation from Europe being the major cause of that. With the exception of the MMP system (a variant of Party List, only used in NZ and Germany) VOTERS HAVE ONE VOTE ONLY. There will be more parties participating as they will have a proportional (fair) chance to be elected.

A minimum entry threshold of three to five per cent usually applies – thus avoiding too many small parties. Parties that qualify will gain seats on the basis of how many times they achieve the quota. There are no boundary hassles, no pork-barrelling and branch-stacking, all major problems in Australia; also no gerrymandering, a well-known problem in the US. Replacement of an MP who leaves parliament is simply done by appointing the candidate on the list who just missed out at the previous election.

Toxic, adversarial culture

This system would replace the current toxic, adversarial culture with MAJORITY government instead of government by the dominant faction of one major party! The growing desire for more diverse representation in Australia has been demonstrated as a very large number of new parties have registered in recent years (around 55). The introduction of a PR–PL system would be welcomed by many.

Some people argue that the introduction of PR–PL, to replace SMD, could be regarded as unconstitutional and/or would require a referendum to effect such a change. That is highly unlikely. However, a government may decide to introduce it after a positive referendum, as happened in New Zealand in 1992; this is NOT a requirement.

The Australian Constitution

The drafters of the 1901 Australian Constitution were content for the parliament to make most of the decisions as to how it should be elected. In most clauses where the electoral system is mentioned, the Constitution states that the Parliament is to legislate to organise elections. This can be seen in the sections regarding the senate, 7, 9, 10, 13 and 15 (amended in 1977 following abuse of ‘conventions’ about replacing retiring senators). And for the House of Reps 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33 and 34. It is frequently stated there ‘until the Parliament decides otherwise’. Remember also that political parties were not even mentioned at all in the archaic Constitution.

Interestingly, it was the ALP that introduced PR in 1948 for the senate, used first in the 1949 election (Hare-Clark). And it was the ALP that introduced an amended format in 1984: ‘above the line’ and ‘under the line’ preferencing. In both cases there was no Referendum and no High Court case mounted against it. The ALP, in the Electoral Reform section of its Platform, urges fairness in representation. Is it fair for the Greens to have just one MP in the 151 strong lower house on a vote percentage of 10.4 per cent?

If the ALP were to adopt PR–PL the Greens would gain several MPs, and the ALP might lose some. BUT jointly they could form government, possibly including some other minor party representatives and Independents.

Everything’s better with John Cleese?

In Britain John Cleese made strong pleas for PR–PL, explained humorously in two videos.

Surprisingly, the LibDems (which he supported) opted for the ‘Australian vote’ (SMD ‘first past the post’ + preferences) and then lost the referendum on it! The LibDems suffered from the same problem as Tthe Greens in Australia. Their votes were spread widely over many seats. A good overall percentage but not reflected in seats won as a result of the undemocratic electoral system. Two recent PMs in Britain even won elections based on minority support, David Cameron and Boris Johnston.

The US journalist Amanda Taub published a major article about PR for Britain in the New York Times (https://nyti.ms/3KVFQlZ). She demonstrated that PR–PL would have provided the UK Labour Party with a victory in 2019, instead of the Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party. The result was Brexit!


Dr Klaas Woldring is former A/Prof of Southern Cross University (1975 – 1999). He stood for the seat of Richmond for the ALP in 1984 and 1987, then held by the National Party. Woldring resigned from the ALP in October 1989.


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23 COMMENTS

    • Didn’t Ireland spend most of the last 100 years in civil war?
      Isn’t New Zealand run by a graduate of the World Economic Forum – Young World Leaders program that spent years working in the UK civil service and spend her time violating the NZ constitution and getting slapped down by their supreme court?
      Sounds safer to just have a coin toss.

  1. No surprise here. The system is rigged to keep just 2 parties in office – in eternity, with both taking turns at times to pretend that we are a democracy. We are not. Election campaigning is a farce, a show for entertainment and pretence. The fact that a handful of seats with ‘rogue’ candidates can swing an election tells us everything. No major party is going to change the system – they can only lose. So what’s the solution?

    • The Rouges candidate are just for spice. They are all puppets in meant to keep you entertained and make you feel like you have some influence while the same stuff happens no matter who is in office. Cause the power is above them.

      There are only three options, and you wouldn’t like any of them.

      • I’m pretty much just going to vote for Succession at this point.
        The ACT doesn’t really product anything or have resources.
        They kind of just get in the way of the Commonwealth working.

  2. What an interesting proposition !
    Do you mean to say that a much fairer, more democratic system is just sitting there ?
    A thoroughly thought out ,well devised and even ‘road tested’ and as is becoming ever more obviously superior option ( especially so in the case of NZ ) while Australia shackled to a system that is unworkable , undemocratic and unable to function on even the most basic level in response to clear and present dangers, such as catastrophic ‘Natural’ disasters, China , Russia, American troops and murderous drone control centres on our territory, while powerless to even influence the Solomon Isl., which are totally dependant on our charity to survive, while such an improved, workable option remains UNUSED or even debated.
    Who is responsible for this travesty and total failure of civic advancement ?
    Cheers, G”)

    • As long as we can beat up on ‘The Other’ – welfare recipients, refugees and asylum seekers, ‘african gangs’, china, transgender community, then why would we want to change anything.

      • We can beat them up? I thought we could only counter-signal them but at serious risk of legal repercussions.
        I didn’t know we could beat them. Thanks for the legal advice Joachim

  3. Mmmmm – interesting reading. I wonder whether the United Australia Party would win office based on popular elecoral marketing and an unwillingness to make hard decisions.

  4. THIS IS FAKE NEWS
    Earlier this year when the largest protest in Canberra’s history occurred, where the main call was for an overhaul of the electoral system including a demand for the recommendations from the electoral commission’s own report to actually be implemented, we were called conspiracy theorists and put down by the media as dangerous nut jobs.
    The police attacked us and set up leaders with “totally not planted evidence”. We had a literal internet pornographer ram her car repeated, totally by accident, into one of our women and then attack her with her own red Australian Flag, all on video from multiple angles, and the police didn’t even arrest her.
    The Television says any talk of the electoral process being corrupt in any way, even if you quoting the Australia Electoral Commission, is anti-Australian dangerous violent sovereign citizen terrorism. And if the writer has hard evidence to prove his position, probably need to call the federal police on him.
    FACT CHECK FALSE

    • Well since the people in office will never change the system that got them there, the first thing you need to do is get the backing of Chinese and Russian Intelligence agencies. The second step is to read up on “Color Revolutions”
      The CIA carried out the Orange revolution in Ukraine in 2004 and again in 2014. That’s how Ukraine got where it is. But they did get rid of their old system, and now they have a President that was born in America, and he and his cabinet are all actually foreign citizen. Z has three different passports.
      Has anyone seen Hunter Biden’s laptop anywhere?

  5. First it was ‘I care not who votes nor how they vote, I only care who counts the votes’
    Then it was ‘Give me control over the creation and distribution of the currency and I care not who writes the laws’
    And then, Give me power to grant or restrict access to energy sources and I care not what trade tokens people use to exchange it nor the products created from it.
    Now it’s, give me read and write access to all information and I will control the minds of all people, the code of all machines, and can therefore make both believe that the paragon of virtue is to do my will and that all evils in the world seem from denying me.

    You first have to get passed vote rigging to get into office. Politicians are at the mercy of the financial system. We are running on credit at this point and you can’t do anything without money. Without energy, there is no economy and most of the world is energy dependent, even the bankers are at the mercy of the energy producers. But above all is those who control information. The ones that can see everything , right down to what you personally say near your devices, control the information you get through all sources. Over time you believe whatever you are being programmed to believe.

    That’s the simplified version of the keys to power on this planet. By all means, vote harder if it makes you feel better, but if you get your guys in, don’t be shocked when nothing changes.

    • Every time a bunch of psychopaths figure out how to dominate everyone, another group of psychopaths figure out how to dominate them. It has got a little out of control over the last 400 years. Still better than the Vatican controlling Kings that controlled Nobles that controlled the peasants.

  6. Still based on the Roman method . Over 2000 years old . Divide and conquer. The nobles run the show and become the upper class . The military enforce it and become the middle class . The plebs and slaves do the work and become the lower class . And keep the plebs down . Don’t let them climb the social ladder . Don’t give them a chance . Nothing has changed in 2000 years. Same system shawed up by governments and Christian religions for centuries. Christianity started off pure . J C was incredible . After 350 years the Romans could see the writing on the wall . The Christians were about to totally defeat them. They already had in the west . 2 Romes . One in the west and one in the east. 2 emperors . So the last remaining pagan Roman emperor and his priests of Mitra , Jupiter was God and his wife Juno , realised he had to do something fast . So he decided , if you can’t beat them join them. So he declared the eastern Roman Empire and all his pagan priests were now Christians. .. They didn’t really convert . They were still the same . Same gov and religion under a different banner. Same collect taxes , keep slaves , collect tithes from the faithful , pay workers a pittance . Bread and circus to keep them distracted. He figured we’ll make a blend of the new religion ( to keep the Christians happy) and the old one ( to keep the nobles and priests happy ) . The ruling class ,remained exactly the same . Nobles , priests and senior military kept their class privileges , still kept practising the old religion , greed and conquer , and let the plebs practise the new religion , love and compassion and sharing. And they’re still doing it to this day . …… I wonder if that’s what the holy graile really is. The knowledge that greedy pagans are still running the show while gullible plebs do the work and get told what to do. The whole of Europe are descended from this Roman system . The lords ( Roman nobles and senior military) built the castles . Well, the slaves and plebs did. Then dominated the land . Taking the best growing land for themselves and leaving the crap for the plebs . Then blame the plebs for starving and being poor. You lost a hand for hunting in the Kings forest to feed your starving family . We’ve still got that today…. ……. .. I’m guessing here that Mohamed ( another incredible human ) by 600 AD saw these new Christians still acting like the old greedy Romans and decided he’d had enough , and helped his people break away from the Roman corruption . . I guess there’s good people and bad people in all cultures but in general if they look after and help the ones that really need it then that’s a pure ethical outcome . . It feels good . Good for the soul. Teach by example . . As I get older I’m leaning towards tibetian Buddhism . Another incredible human who emphasised that he wasn’t God . And First Nations religion . It’s ancient . It’s pure,, and it emphasises helping and sharing and looking after the land. Don’t be greedy . Only catch enough fish to feed your family . Throw back the big female breeders. Only hunt the teenage male roos. Respect your elders past and present . Protect the sacred sites. A lot of sacred sites are lush little valleys with thick forest . Where the birds and beasties were flourishing . ( No ones allowed to hunt there ) . The population naturally increases and it spills out into the dryer country , and that’s where your allowed to hunt them. Very clever . Like fish sanctuaries . So simple and so effective. I like how it dovetails together. Religion and not governance, more like concensus , majority decides , and that’s only if the minority is looked after as well. So all benefit ….like Buddhism. . And that’s what the Romans stomped 2000 years ago….. Musings on a Saturday afternoon.

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