Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.

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Issue #1611      September 18, 2013


Towards a more democratic voting system

When Britain colonised the Australian continent, it dispossessed the Aboriginal people of their land and even denied their existence. It also exploited convict labour and, subsequently, the “free” settlers and working people, in the interests of British capital. For more than two centuries, the Australian people have struggled on many issues and won valuable reforms.

The struggles included campaigns for democratic rights and the right to vote, the Eureka Stockade of 1854 with its demands for “manhood suffrage”, the “abolition of the property qualification for members of the Legislative Assembly” and other objectives. Women won the vote towards the end of the 19th century. All this came about before Federation.

The establishment of a federal government was also a democratic struggle for nationhood against British colonialism. As far as elections are concerned, other reforms are needed which can bring about a more democratic electoral system.

Parliament and parliamentary campaigns have an important place in the whole process of the struggle to advance the interests of the people – provided that parliamentary activity is combined with vigorous struggle by the people outside parliament.

The system in which government is alternately shared between the Liberal National Coalition and the Labor Party obscures and protects the dictatorship of capital over our economic and political life.

In a changing society, opportunity must be given for new or changing political trends to have a legitimate place in the political life of the country in order to reflect people’s desires for change. That desire for change has been reflected in the increased vote for the Greens and swing away from Labor and support for independents.

In the case of the 2013 federal elections much of the anti-Labor vote flowed not towards the Coalition but to an array of right wing and nationalist parties. More than one in five of all votes, a record high, was cast for one of the minor parties.

In terms of the current voting system, if Liberal and Labor both outpoll the Greens or another party or candidate, that third party cannot be elected. For example, in the 2010 federal election the Greens, with more than 1.4 million votes, got only one seat (out of 150) in the Lower House. Expressing it in percentage terms, 11.7 percent of the vote delivered less than one percent of seats.

In the Senate the outcome was far more democratic. The greens, with more than 1.5 million votes in 2010 (12.9 percent) won six out of 40 seats (15 percent). The reason for these quite different outcomes in the two Houses is the nature of the voting system for each House.

The Lower House is based on single seat electorates (electoral divisions) and a preferential system where voters rank candidates in order of preference. To win a seat a candidate must gain a majority of votes – either outright or with the allocation of preferences of candidates receiving the lowest votes.

In Senate elections, six seats in each state and two in each of the territories are determined by a preferential-proportional system. Where candidates or parties do not have enough votes to win a seat outright, preferences are then distributed.

This form of representation for the “House of review” dates back to the time of Federation. It was formed to look after the interests of the states, giving each state equal representation, regardless of population.

The following are ideas for reform of the voting system, based on the principles:

  • The election of representatives in accordance with the proportion of votes received, that is, proportional representation.
  • Preferential voting, which provides for voters to have their priority ranking of candidates recognised and counted, should the voters’ first choice not be elected.
  • Compulsory voting at each level of government. Non-compulsory voting helps the conservative forces.

Taking these three principles together would implement a compulsory, proportional, preferential voting system. This system gives the people a wider choice of candidates through multi-member electorates and a choice of local members to whom they can take their concerns.

We invite readers’ comments and suggestions on these proposals.

Next article – “Apologise and withdraw comments” – Open letter to Barry O’Farrell

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