SOUTH AUSTRALIAN STATE ELECTION 2006
On the 18th March 2006 South Australians will head to the polls to elect the next Parliament.
Are you interested in what the political parties policies are on the Upper House? The position of Labor candidates is very unclear. Although the Labor party platform is in support of the Upper House, Premier Mike Rann has been very vocal in calling for its abolition. Find out more.
For coverage of the SA State Election please visit Antony Green's ABC-Online Election Guide at www.abc.net.au/elections/sa/2006/.
At this election the voter has two votes, one for the Legislative Council (the Upper House) and one for the House of Assembly (the Lower House). While it is probable that your vote will be effective in the Legislative Council, the likelihood of your vote being wasted in the House of Assembly is high. In the 2002 State Election only 54.6% of votes cast in the House of Assembly contributed to electing Members of Parliament. This has left some 45% of voters who are not represented in Parliament.
These wasted votes are not the result of any exploitation of the system. It is the result of the single-member electoral system that we have in South Australia for the House of Assembly.
ASSESSMENT OF PARTY POSITIONS ON ELECTORAL REFORM
Comments on the ALP Electoral Reform Policy 2006
The Electoral Reform Society of SA is very impressed with the detail provided in the ALP Platform, under part 10 on “Delivering quality government” (see www.sa.alp.org.au/lhsmenu/platform.php ).
While much of the two and a half pages on “Improving Democracy” contain well meaning statements, underneath this padding there are some commitments.
Items that the Society fully support –
- Labor will entrench proportional representation for the Legislative Council [section 36]
- Labor will keep proportional representation as the method of voting for local government elections 
Unfortunately Labor will continue to support preferential voting in the lower house in single-member constituencies . This is despite Labor stating that governments should be “democratically elected”  and each citizen should have “a vote of equal value to the vote of each other citizen” . The Society argues that neither of these fine ideals can be achieved with single-member electorates.
Labor has some plans for their next term which the Society welcomes and looks forward to being involved with – this includes the following:
- investigate four year terms for the Legislative Council 
- investigate simultaneous elections for both houses of Parliament 
- investigate optional preferential voting for ballots for both houses 
- investigate preferential ‘above the line’ voting for upper house ballots in addition to current preferential ‘below the line’ voting 
- investigate provision of public funding based on the federal system 
- consider lowering the voting age to 16 years .
The Society notes that there is no direct mention of the Constitutional Convention held in 2003, the major event of the first Rann Labor State Government. However the Labor Platform does consider some of the outcomes from the Convention such as optional preferential voting, four year terms for the Legislative Council, and Citizen Initiated Referenda (Labor opposes this in any form ). And there is mention of the need for all to be involved in constitutional reform.
In relation to local government elections, Labor has been bolder, with a commitment to make voting compulsory, removing the property franchise, restricting voting to eligible persons living in the council, and ensuring a person gets to vote only once .
While the Society is pleased with the amount of detail in the ALP Electoral Reform Policy, it is difficult to assess the Policy knowing that the Premier is going against at least part of this Policy. Mr Rann wants to abolish the Upper House while the ALP platform states that “Labor will continue to support a bi-cameral parliamentary system.” But the proposed referendum on abolishing the Upper House does mean that electoral reform will be on the Government’s agenda if Labor is re-elected.
ASSESSMENT – 6/10
Comments on the Liberal Party Electoral Reform Policy 2006
The Liberal Party is to be congratulated on having a specific Parliamentary and Electoral Reform Policy (see www.saliberals.org.au/policy/pdf/parliamentary%20reform.pdf ).
While the Electoral Reform Society of SA has concerns with much of this, we are pleased that the Liberals are prepared to tackle the issues and to spell out what a Liberal Government would do.
For example, the Liberals are clear on what they thought of the 2003 Constitutional Convention, even to the point, by downgrading the outcomes, of offending the 1,201 selected people surveyed and the 323 representative South Australians who were delegates to the actual Convention, plus the many people and organisations that made submissions or attended the public meetings.
The Liberal Party plan to re-introduce an Electoral Reform Bill to improve the electoral processes. This will put electoral reform on the agenda, allowing the opportunity for all aspects to be discussed with the possibility of amendments.
One aspect the Liberals would like is to require a public declaration by all candidates indicating which Party they will support in the formation of Government after an election. And the seat of an elected member would be declared vacant if, after the election, the member did not honour that declaration. The Society has asked for more details as we are not sure how this would work in practice. For example, would the forced vacancy be filled by a recount? If there is another election, can the vacating member be a candidate?
The Liberal Party states that “every Government has an obligation to encourage diverse representation in Parliament.” This could be achieved by adopting proportional representation for electing the Lower House so that the voters could effectively choose who they want to represent them.
The Liberal Party proposes a number of measures to reform Parliamentary procedures, including increasing community involvement in policy development and more public consultation on legislation. They also want more opportunities for all South Australians to see Parliament in action. Such changes are to be supported.
Interestingly, the Liberals now maintain support for compulsory voting at State elections.
On Mr Rann’s proposal to hold a referendum to abolish the Upper House, the Liberals are committed to an effective bi-cameral parliament and want to maintain 8-year terms for members of the Upper House.
While local government is mentioned, there is no comment on local government elections such as who should vote and should this be compulsory – both items raised by the ALP during this election campaign.
ASSESSMENT – 2/10
Comments on the Australian Democrat Electoral Reform Policy 2006
The Electoral Reform Society of SA is very impressed with the content of the Democrat’s Issue Sheet on “Parliamentary, Electoral and Constitutional Reform” (see www.sa.democrats.org.au/election/issues/Parliamentary%20Reform.pdf ).
On Lower House Reform, the Democrats would introduce proportional representation in multi-ember electorates to allow genuine representative democracy. This is fully supported by the Electoral Reform Society.
Other aspects of interest to the Society include –
- reducing the voting age to 16 years
- independent speakers for both Houses of Parliament – appointed from outside the parliament
- reducing the term of the Upper House to four years
- support for holding further Constitutional Conventions, and for any recommendations to be taking seriously.
In relation to the 2003 Constitutional Convention, it is significant that only three of the main five outcomes are listed. There is no mention in the Democrats Issue Sheet of either optional preferential voting or Citizen’s Initiated Referenda (CIR).
In an associated media release “Rann rebuffed on Upper House abolition”(6 March 2006) more details are given on the proposal for independent speakers, including reducing the size of Parliament – Lower House to have 45 members (currently 47) and the Upper House 21 members (currently 22). Both suggested sizes would enable proportional representation, as the method of election, to work better.
In relation to Mr Rann’s proposed referendum to abolish the Upper House, it is noted that part of the Democrats campaign is on the slogan “An independent Upper House is still the best check on government.”
The Democrat’s have also issued an Issues Sheet on Local Government, but surprisingly there is no mention of electoral matters, despite the next local government elections being scheduled for later this year with concerns being expressed about the increase in local government terms to four years and the ALP proposing compulsory voting.
ASSESSMENT – 8/10
Comments on the Australian Greens Electoral Reform Policy 2006
The Australian Greens have a very good national Constitutional Reform and Democracy policy (see www.greens.org.au/policies/democracy/constitutionalreform).
This states that the Australian Greens believe that “proportional representation best reflects the wishes of the electorate in the composition of Federal Parliament and state and local governments.”
This statement is fully supported by the Electoral Reform Society.
It is however unfortunate that this whole policy is focussed on the Federal level and there is nothing specific to South Australia.
The SA Greens do however highlight the need for democracy; they are urging that a vote for the Greens is a ‘double vote’ (giving a good explanation on how preferential voting works); and they planned a “Safe Seats are Losers” campaign.
Because so much of the local Greens policies are nationally based, it is even meaningless in some instances. For example, under its Local Government policy it states that the Greens propose “a review of local government electoral processes, with a view to recommending proportional representation.” Local government in South Australia is already elected using proportional representation.
What is needed from the Greens is more detail on how they would implement their national policy in this State.
While Kris Hanna was a Greens MP he did hold a seminar in Parliament House on Multi-Member Electorates, and it was Kris that introduced the bills in State Parliament to give effect to the main outcomes from the 2003 Constitutional Convention.
It is now up to the Greens to follow up on these initiatives.
ASSESSMENT – 7/10
Comments on the Family First Electoral Reform Policy 2006
It appears that Family First does not as yet have an electoral reform policy.
The Electoral Reform Society of SA wrote to Family First on 9 February, but has received no response.
And a search of the Family First website (at www.familyfirst.org.au/sa/index.php) fails to find anything specific.
There is mention that in relation to the size of government, this “should be as small as possible”, but there is no mention of how it should be elected.
A speech to the National Press Club after the last Federal election by representatives from Family First indicates that the party appears to favour the current method of electing the Senate. Presumably the comments made in this speech would also in their opinion apply to South Australia’s Legislative Council.
Given that one of the issues of this election campaign is Mr Rann’s proposed referendum, one would have expected some comment from a relatively new political party that is trying to attract both attention and support.
ASSESSMENT – 0/10
Comments on the National Party Electoral Reform Policy 2006
The National Party at this stage does not have an up-to-date electoral reform policy.
This is disappointing as the National Party was at one stage, when Peter Blacker was a State MP, keen to see proportional representation and multi-member electorates introduced for the Lower House.
The Electoral Reform Society of SA wrote to the National Party on 9 February, but has received no response.
An examination of the National Party’s website (at www.sa.nationals.org.au ) fails to find anything specific.
However it is noted that when it was announced that Kym McHugh would be the Nationals candidate for Finniss, he commented:
“For far too long Finniss has floundered with ‘safe seat syndrome’ and it is time the
people of Finniss acted to make it a marginal seat”.
Kym adopted the motto ‘Make Finniss marginal – make it matter.’
At least the Nationals are aware of the problems with having safe seats even if they do not mention that the best solution is to adopt the Hare-Clark method of proportional representation with the Robson rotation so that there are then no safe seats and the voters cannot be taken for granted.
ASSESSMENT – 0.5/10
Comments on One Nation Electoral Reform Policy 2006
One Nation does not have a specific electoral reform policy.
In the preamble to their policies it states: The theory of democratic government is that politicians are elected by a majority of voters in their electorates as individual Members of Parliament who shall represent the views of the majority of their electors (see www.sa.onenation.com.au/policies.htm ). This statement implies single-member electorates – certainly not proportional representation. And this is reinforced by One Nation saying they support the maintenance of a democratic system of government.
One Nation however is a strong supporter of Citizen’s Initiated Referenda (CIR) to give electors the right to be involved in decision-making.
The Electoral Reform Society of SA is currently asking candidates in the 2006 State Election their opinions on the outcomes from the 2003 Constitutional Convention*. In his response, Stan Batten, State President of One Nation indicated that he agrees with the five main outcomes. While this is his personal view, as State President this must have some influence.
ASSESSMENT – 0.5/10
* The five main outcomes from the 2003 Constitutional Convention were:
- Reduce the current 8-year terms for Members of the Upper House to 4 years;
- Increase the independence of the Speaker of the Lower House;
- Increased citizen's involvement in Parliamentary process;
- Introduce Optional Preferential Voting - so that voters only vote for those candidates they wish to elect, no more and no less; and
- Establish multi-member electorates.