Queensland government backflips on compulsory preferences for councils


The Queensland government has dropped the key piece of its council reform package, by abandoning plans to change the council voting system, a change that would have likely boosted Labor’s chances of taking control of the City of Brisbane.

The original package included a variety of other minor reforms, but included two changes to the voting system: introducing proportional representation for multi-member electorates, and requiring full preferencing for all council elections.

Compulsory preferential voting was a particular problem for proportional representation elections, and the government eventually dropped the plan for any PR from their legislation so that further “consultation” could take place.

The government was still pursuing plans for compulsory preferential voting for single-member wards, which would have likely produced a significant benefit for Labor in Brisbane City Council, where the only significant minor party is the Greens. I estimated that the change in voting system would reduce the LNP’s margin for the council by about 2%.

The Queensland government announced yesterday that they would drop their plans to shift to compulsory preferential voting after strong opposition from the Local Government Association.

While people will often judge voting system reforms based on whether it will help their side of politics, I’m very comfortable in saying that it’s a good thing that voters in Queensland election won’t be required to number more preferences than they want under threat of their vote being completely invalidated. So this is a good result.

Liked it? Take a second to support the Tally Room on Patreon!


  1. This is a terrible result Ben.

    First Past the Post (that optional preferential mimics) and “Slate” methods are horribly undemocratic, and the state government have caved to the Local Government Association that represents these undemocratically elected councils!!

    Another win for the bad guys.

    One day all of QLD will have proportionally elected councils, but why wasn’t it this year?

  2. To be fair, the terrible result (caving on PR) happened a while ago. The change yesterday was simply not making a bad but not that significant change to the system for single-member wards.

  3. Benee
    How do you have proportional representation when great majority of candidates are theoretically independent. To have PR you have to first politicise the councils.

  4. With candidate based quota-preferential proportional representation, as I believe was proposed, it is entirely candidate based and voters just number candidates` boxes individually.

  5. The idea that councils aren’t politicised just because most are won by “team *Mayor’s name*” rather than “LNP” etc. is naive.

    A democratically elected institution that is supposed to govern is inherently political.

  6. STV is one thing but proportional representation is a totally different issue. It is clear in State where Party A gets 33% therefore should he 3 out of 10 seats.
    However when 30 candidates all claiming independence who do you allocate 3 seats to? The only way is to insist that all candidates are part of a ticket.
    I like proportional representation but it can only work where great majority of candidates are Party or Team endorsed.
    In Moreton Bay Regional Council last election there were alliances of sort but great majority of voters had not got a clue that Candidate C was alligned in to Candidate F or in fact was complete political enemy of Candidate F. This time we may have greater team spirit with two teams those that have been Accused of criminality and those opposed to Accused Criminals. By Election Day hopefully the Accused will have been either been proven not guilty or will be the convicted.
    However Proportional Representation is hopeless at picking a single Mayor?

    I ask again how will proportional representation work in Council elections where all claim to be independents.

    We hardly know anything about candidates and local throw away papers will ensure we are kept fully in the dark unless candidates have big advertising budgets.

    Should we just abolish Local Government altogether. After all would Bureaucrats and Engineers do a better job of Road, Sewer and Water infrastructure construction and maintenance than elected Councillors.
    It does not require democracy to run an efficient drainage or Library system.
    Does the Mayor’s role much different to that of a school principal. School principals are rarely accused of corruption but on Brisbane’s periphery clouds hang low in Ipswich, Redlands, Logan and Moreton Bay. Only One Mayor has been convicted but none of the others have been exonerated. It says a lot about our Court system that Justice be that conviction or exoneration has been occurred.

  7. Andrew, you are simply incorrect in your assertion about PR requiring party structures. Every council in NSW has proportional representation and most rural councils, as well as a lot of small councils on the north shore, are dominated by independents. Yes in some areas they organise as their own local mini-parties but in a lot of places they don’t. It’s just a ballot paper with a single column with a list of candidates. It works perfectly well. That’s why we have preferences.

    Under the NSW system, you could register a group, in which case the voters would know that Candidate C is aligned with Candidate F and would be able to choose whether they vote above or below the line, but if not, the voters would be able to choose whether their vote for Candidate C would flow to Candidate F by marking their own preferences, regardless of any informal alliances.

    The great thing about STV is it doesn’t require voters to vote tactically. On the contrary, an informal block system like you see on Moreton Bay can advantage one side if their voters are more educated about what the alliances are. STV works with or without those alliances.

    That is why STV has spread as a voting system to local councils in Scotland and New Zealand: places which use partisan MMP for their national elections.

  8. Looking at Canadian Atlantic Ridings (10:58 Australian Eastern Standard Time)with a complete breakdown of two party system, the benefits of STV are very evident. Liberals and Conservatives losing seats which they would have won under Preferential Voting.
    My inclination is that unless we are prepared to have an exhaustive ballot (ruled out on cost ground) We are very lucky to have Preferential voting.

    A comment of mine has disappeared (Probably not despatched). I brought to your attention that my comment on Preferential Voting have been Questions rather than statements. How does Proportional Representation work without parties? I still do not know answer.

    I would like to see proportional representation in Queensland at least but am happy for Federal House of Reps and Senate to retain current system.

    All voters have some chance of representation in Senate.

  9. Andrew –

    Proportional representation under STV works without parties in that if XYZ many voters preference all candidates with a certain attribute (e.g. red hair) above all other candidates, then we should expect XYZ÷quota red-haired candidates to be elected.

  10. Alex J.
    If all of the candidates with red hair choose to stand on same ticket this is effectively a quasi political party.
    However if Party A has 1 red hair And party B 1 red hair and party c has none etc etc
    How do you allocate red hair proportion.

    How do we know that it is the red hair that is entitled to the proportion rather than the blue eyes, masculinity or left handedness that is entitled to the proportional representation.
    In effect proportional representation is fine if candidates block themselves into parties but if they are independent there is no link between the red hairs they are intermingled into a list.
    As I said PR only works when candidates stand in political parties.
    Every one appears to disagree with me but I just can not see PR working without great bulk of candidates standing as part of a party team or group.

  11. My comment on Canadian Ridings has proven to be correct. With STV Tory’s would have won, with FPP Liberals win, with PR result would be a much more diverse parliament.

    Electoral Reform in effect is not a right or wrong decision. Support for any system is dependent on previous results.

    The other factor that is rarely considered is that system determines how people cast their votes. Under Canadian system I would have voted either Tory or Liberal depending on individual candidates. With Canadian parties superimposed on Australian Voting system Canadian People’s Party would be a consideration.

  12. If the red-haired voters vote for the red-haired candidates they will win in that proportion. If they don’t want to vote that way, then they don’t.

    STV works by distributing seats according to quotas of votes. The parties are irrelevant to the counting. So votes are recorded for individual candidates, if they get more than they need they can pass them onto the next choice, if they don’t have enough they are knocked out and likewise pass on, and this produces a proportional result after the distribution of preferences.

  13. Why not a rule like “minimum [say] 10 preferences if there are 12 or more candidates; if 11 or fewer candidates, you must number them all, or all but one”.
    This would amount to effective full-preferential in single-seat contests, but semi-optional in an STV-PR system.

  14. this discussion is occurring because Major Political parties attempted to white ant Preferential voting with Just Vote 1 campaigns.
    I am happy with preferencing all candidates but allowing any vote that is clear to be counted providing no encouragement to not number majority of boxes.
    There is little appetite for First Past Post ( All dropped dead before post) voting. Looking at UK this last month it is clear why Preferential voting or re-run voting is superior.

  15. I think I find myself agreeing with Andrew (shock, horror) – for single-winner elections we would, ideally, have a system that is:

    A. normatively full-preferential, but with
    B. maximally generous savings provisions, and
    C. rules against advocating that voters not fill out a ballot with a full preference sequence (though this is tricky to get right).

  16. Thanks Alex
    Without Part C You will end up with “Just Vote 1” campaigns by parties. IN past FPP favoured ALP but with Greens having9-12% of votes this is no longer case. However in the future we will have elections where FPP is advantageous to one major party. Without C that party will put up a Just Vote 1 campaign not because they support FPP Voting but because it is advantageous to split their oppositions vote.

    I Am happy with votes being counted up to point that voters intention can no longer be determined and then becoming informal. This was Commonwealth Situation in late 1980’s but I think has now changed. An Offence of Not advocating Just Vote 1 is no different to Offence of not advocating Number every Square with a HTV showing Numbering 1 Square and placing 7 2’s in other 7 squares or the Offence of not advocating an informal vote.

  17. Having a different system of voting between council and state/federal will just means more informal votes at the state and federal level.
    There are good arguments for OPV but having a uniform voting system is more important

  18. Judson Campbell is quite correct uniformity is important. We also need uniformity between elections
    Electoral Act has been re written at least three times in last decade.

    There may be reasons to Ammend Electoral Act but when only way to keep a copy is to reprint half a ream of paper each change of government it is not just voters who are confused. Electoral Office Public Servants and party campaign managers are confused as well.

Comments are closed.