Time to talk about PR


There’s been a lot of chatter about the low primary vote for the major parties, and Labor in particular polling their lowest primary vote in many decades.

There are plenty of excuses to explain why the vote is so low, such as strategic voting for “teal independents”, but they only explain some of the decline. Ultimately the teal movement is not the reason why a government was elected with the lowest primary vote under our modern party system.

And yes it is true that we have a voting system that (in most seats) makes it easy for someone to, say, vote Greens first and give a second preference to Labor. Some of them may have chosen just for Labor in different circumstances, but there’s also plenty of evidence that there are voters who choose to vote Greens when they can win, but otherwise vote Labor. I cannot say which group is bigger, but what we do know is those voters could have voted Labor and chose not to do so.

So we need to talk about the voting system. Is it really a fair result for a party that wins less than a third of the vote to win total control of government?

There have been some silly suggestions, such as that from Resolve pollster Jim Reed who advocated for first-past-the-post. I think that is the wrong way to move. While the Coalition outpolled Labor, it is clear that a majority of the country would prefer a Labor-led government to a Coalition-led government. I just don’t think they necessarily voted for that Labor government to have a single-party majority. In a first-past-the-post system, people would definitely change how they vote. It seems likely a large proportion of Greens voters would have simply voted Labor, particularly in marginal seats, giving Labor government, but it puts the burden of thinking strategically back on the voter and leads to even more erratic outcomes.

Instead, I want us to start talking about a move to a proportional system.

In this post I’m not arguing for any particular system, although I think if we were to apply a proportional voting system at a federal level without constitutional change it would only be possible to switch to multi-member districts using the single transferable vote, ideally alongside an expansion of the size of the parliament. I don’t think a party list or MMP system is currently constitutional. Still, this argument applies to proportional systems in general.

This election was objectively the most disproportionate House result we’ve had in at least three quarters of a century. The Gallagher index, or the least squares index, measures disproportionality. Very proportional voting systems tend to produce Gallagher scores close to zero, usually below 5. Most Australian elections during my lifetime have produced Gallagher scores between 8 and 12, although the 1975 and 1977 elections scored above 14.

The 2022 score is 16.5.

The Greens and the Liberal Party are significantly under-represented in the current Parliament, while Labor and the LNP (who for this historic dataset had been treated as a separate party, so I've been consistent) are significantly over-represented, with the independents and the Nationals slightly overrepresented.

If you amalgamate the Coalition as a single unit, then the Coalition, Labor, independents and the Katter and Centre Alliance parties between them polled 22.7% less of the primary vote than their seat share would suggest. The Greens polled 9.2% more than their seat share suggests, with the three largest minor right-wing parties (ON, UAP and LDP) under-represented by 10.6%.

So I've always been an advocate for proportionality. I just don't believe that the supposed "stability" arguments for majoritarian voting systems justify putting power in the hands of minority parties (and for the purposes of this essay I define the Coalition as a single party). I think we should elect a parliament that represents the true diversity of the people, and then allow the parties to come to agreements to represent that diversity, rather than hiding that diversity away.

Of course that's not to say we need to have pure proportionality. I wouldn't support an Israeli or Dutch style system with a national PR list. I think geographic representation has some value, if not as much value as the current system places in it, and that you can achieve a middle-range outcome with more than two strong parties but without a totally fragmented political system. Indeed this paper suggests that PR systems with a low magnitude district size can gain most of the proportionality benefits while still electing relatively stable parliaments without too many parties and with accountability for government decisions. The trade-offs are not linear. You can have stability and proportionality.

But even if you don't buy my arguments about proportionality, I think we are now entering a stage in Australia's party system where the electoral system will no longer deliver the stability that is promised, and indeed a proportional system may be the best way to make outcomes more predictable and stable.

Single-member electorates have a tendency to exaggerate swings. A party can win a bunch of seats by slim margins, and thus outperform their proportional share. This doesn't just apply to the major parties. In Sydney and Melbourne, it looks like the teals had a devastating impact on the Liberal Party in certain parts of the city which exceed the actual shift in vote. They won four seats in Sydney, and almost won five. In a proportional result that wouldn't have been so dramatic.

Indeed we saw a similar outcome for the Greens in inner city Brisbane, winning three seats in a small area with no more than 35% in any of those three seats. The preferential system makes this quite possible when the vote is split three ways (as would a first past the post system).

This might be the fair outcome for a single electorate, but when you scale it up to dozens of seats it can be quite erratic and produce lopsided outcomes. You need only look at the late counting in seats like Macnamara, Richmond and Brisbane. A small change in the vote share switches the winner, and you could imagine this sort of outcome happening in more seats if the major party vote continues to decline.

I think it's unlikely the Greens would get to a point where they win more seats than their proportional seat share, but independents and Greens are getting better at taking advantage of these peculiarities of the single-member system and I think we may see more local disproportionalities in their favour, as they wipe out the major parties in one area.

In contrast, a proportional system would probably elect more Greens (and if the teals decided to go in the direction of forming a genuine centrist liberal party, they could elect more too), but spread across a wider range of the country, while the Liberal Party would still have safe seats in places like the North Shore.

Which brings me to my next point: protection of party talent. The Coalition was hit hard by losing a generation of potential future leaders (in the broader sense of the term). Labor was also unable to find an appropriate seat for frontbencher Kristina Keneally, which ended in her losing a previously safe Labor seat.

While there wouldn't be "safe electorates" in the way there are now under proportional representation, the major parties would be assured of a certain number of seats in each area, and prominent members of the party would be able to hold on to those seats with more ease. Exactly how much control the party would have over who holds these seats depends on the voting system - under Hare-Clark it's possible a seat could be "safe for Labor" while not being safe for any individual Labor candidate, but generally prominent senior party figures are able to win even under that system, let alone a mostly-closed list system like that we see for the Senate.

And more generally, a PR system produces less erratic and more stable seat counts. You don't see the kind of major party wipe-outs we saw in Queensland in 2012 or more often in Canada over recent decades. We saw a localised version of that for the Liberal Party in northern Sydney and eastern Melbourne in 2022, and such an outcome could happen nationally. A proportional system tends to result in seat changes that are proportional to vote changes, while a majoritarian system can exaggerate seat changes off small vote changes.

I think we have also reached the point where we can no longer argue that the majoritarian system protects the system of single-party majority government. Yes Labor barely scraped across the line this time, but the range of 2PP outcomes that would produce a hung parliament will end up being much wider than it has been at the past. If the vote for minor parties and independents remains as strong as it was in 2022, hung parliaments will likely be more common than single-party majority governments. So if we will end up with minor parties and independents in the balance of power, the question is how they are elected. Do they win in an unpredictable and erratic manner in particular single-member electorates, or are they proportionally elected according to their strength across the country?

And if we are going to end up with common hung parliaments, it's probably better to give up on the pretence that a government of a single party is better than shared power. Labor could probably govern in current circumstances with less than 76 seats, but I don't think it's a good thing.

Australia's party system has generally worked pretty well with its electoral system, but that isn't the case everywhere. Take a look at Canada, where there are three major parties, hung parliaments are more common, but governments tend to govern in minority. It's quite common for the party that is less preferred overall to stay in government because they happen to have more seats. That sort of thing could easily happen under our preferential voting system. Canada also has a history of parties winning large landslides in seat terms while not doing that well in terms of votes. That was unlikely as long as the seat contests were dominated by the same two parties, but as we get more diversity in types of contests, the possibility of lopsided outcomes becomes more possible.

If we're electing minor party and independent MPs, they should have the opportunity to share power, but also the accountability of being responsible for decisions.

I suspect the Coalition will have a great deal of trouble defeating the independents who beat them in their former heartlands in part because those MPs won't be in any governmental role in the new parliament. While the Coalition will be able to criticise government decisions in seats they are trying to win from Labor, that doesn't apply here.

Wouldn't it be healthier if a bloc of independents like those elected were to take on some ministerial responsibility, take some decisions, and then be accountable for that in 2025?

I don't think we are about to switch to proportional representation, but let's have the conversation. Not just because it's unfair to give total majority power to a party polling under 33% (although it is), but also because the majoritarian voting system is erratic, produces unusual outcomes, and will be a less stable counterpart to a more heterogenous party system.

I'm going to return, hopefully tomorrow, with some analysis of potential models for proportional representation and how they would play out on the results of the 2019 and 2022 elections.

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  1. I was just thinking about PR earlier today whilst looking at the federal election’s Wikipedia page and checked around to see if any progress or talk on switching to it had been made in Canada and the UK recently.

    I personally prefer MMP although really any alternative is fine, but I am not going to hold my breath on PR being introduced here in the near future. Nobody in the government ever seems to want to talk about it or even give a passing comment.

    If it were up for debate I could see a situation similar to the Republic referendum where it is put up for a national vote but the preferred system is argued over and the wrong choice contributes to its defeat.

  2. No electoral system is perfect and we can pick holes in all of them. One thing remains true. Voters are not stupid and adjust their vote in relation to the system they operate in. A good example is the UK with its anachronistic first past the post system. Voters there tend to deliver some of the effects of proportionality by voting against their least preferred candidate rather than for their most preferred. For example, Conservative voters in a strong Lib Dem seat will vote Lib Dem to keep Labour out. This has a similar effect as preference voting where they might put Conservative 1, Lib Dem 2 and Labour last.
    I don’t think Australia will benefit by changing its preferential voting system. Sure, people who didn’t get the outcome they hoped for may want to tinker with the rules but as elections go, 2022 wasn’t that much of an outlier. We have a Labor government by bare majority which will run full term. The Teals will be vulnerable if the Albanese Labor government fails. Having got rid of Morrison, enough will come back to the Liberals to bring those seats back. The Libs must preselect some females however.
    Preferential voting is what we’ve got and I see zero appetite for changing it any time soon.

  3. I think there are very strong arguments for both a single-member district system (only with preferential voting, of course) and a PR system. I think this post makes the case very well for the latter.

    My concern with PR in the Australian context is that it makes the Senate quite redundant. Even worse, the potential for inconsistent outcomes, together with the likelihood of a reduced dominance of the government in the lower house, will likely lead to more gridlock.

    I’m already not a big fan of the Senate – I believe the equal representation of the states is an anti-democratic feature – but at least at the moment it gives our Parliament a PR chamber. If the House goes PR, the correct (yet practically impossible) course of action would be to abolish it.

  4. I think something like we have now with 5 members per seat (seats reduced by a factor of 5) would be preferable
    Would give more representation to parties like the greens in inner city areas where they poll strongly and labor in rural areas where they still get 20% or so of the vote but never get representation. Similar the liberals would get representation in traditional labor areas were they too get at least 30% of the support consistently
    This would also keep the local representation and hopefully less incentive to port barrel

  5. MMP or a List System would be allowable as long as the constituency doesn’t expand over State and Territory boundaries.

    With regards to the ‘Direct Election’ clause you would need to use an open-list system where voters could express a preference for an individual. Or you would need to argue before the High Court that a closed-list system should be constitutional because voters are still electing the member through a party vote (not through an electoral college which is probably what the father of the Constitution were referring to).

  6. I agree with everything Ben Raue has said but I would add a proportional system may considerably change the rhetorical and parliamentary strategies of the largest parties.

    In Germany it would be unthinkable for the CDU/CSU to negotiate with the AfD ahead of the SPD (or even die Grünen these days) when those are the options available, or for the SPD (or die Grünen) to refuse to negotiate in good faith to prevent the AfD being turned to.

    In contrast in Australia it is currently unthinkable for the Coalition to negotiate with the ALP ahead of One Nation when those are the options available, or for the ALP to negotiate in good faith with the Coalition to prevent One Nation being turned to.

    The first priority of parties in the running for a future majority is to demonise their main opponent, even at the cost of sensible governing.

    The mindset often bleeds into the Senate. Because the two largest parties are making decisions about how to win the next majority there is little incentive to “give your nemesis a win” by good faith negotiation through the proportional house. Hence the senate is mostly used as a roadblock unless there’s some wedge issue that the governing party can bully the opposition into passing, or a favourable enough cross bench for the government to find a pathway to majority.

    This culture even bleeds into Tasmania despite that state forming government in a proportional system. Somehow it is taken as a given that the Tasmanian Liberals and Labor can never negotiate with each other in a hung parliament and because the Greens win their proportional share of seats in the TAS electoral system hung parliament have quite a wide “2PP spread.”

    Over the last decade this has evolved into an absolutely bizarre situation where there’s a cohort of the media and voters who will support whichever of the Liberal and Labor parties look closer to forming a majority, lest the resultant government rely on the Greens for majority.

    I ask, if these voters are happy with either the Liberal or Labor party governing Tasmania… why on earth won’t this parties cooperate with each-other in a hung parliament?? The system is failing to give voters what they want.

    In a purely proportional system nationwide the narratives of the parties would be allowed to change. It would be fine for the Labor and Liberal party’s to shrink to 25% of the vote each and govern together, rather than each fighting to get to 50% 2PP and swap executive power from 100% for one party to 100% for the other at each election.

  7. David,

    Yes it is true that no system is perfect but some are much worse than others. I don’t think there’s much proportionality at all in the UK system, even when people try to vote tactically.


    Improving one system and thus making another system less remarkable in its good features is not a bad thing in itself. Yes the malapportioned Senate is not ideal but it’s there and it’s not changing, that’s not a reason to not change the house.

    And I see no reason why gridlock would be worse with a proportional House.

  8. If we are looking at fundamentals, surely, it could be argued, representation by Party selectees is an anachronism as is not using modern polling options on policy determination.

    As a social conservative but not a neo-con, I would rather vote on policies than personalities and then expect them to be voted on their merits. Clearly some issues would go the way of SSM that is clearly unconstitutional but worked around by HCA, Parliament and a GG who failed his only duty – to defend the constitution when the other arms go feral. But he got that nice QANTAS wedding invitation…

    Of course, who watches over those public servants that should be delivering these democratic mandates? I was disturbed by a recent article headline that alluded to the public service winning the election!

    With so many deluded by the new religion of climate (cf pollution and environmental degradation) all I see is my tax dollars subsidising the same businesses that exploited the old tech by reinvestment in what is political flavour of the century.

    Of course I don’t have the non-nuclear answer to wind generated battery power for smelters either!

    Democracy is the best of a bad bunch – save the benevolent dictator, my father being the last one I knew!

    Really enjoy this forum btw!

  9. Firstly, thanks Ben for this article and for your commitment to future articles on what I think is an important topic and is, I think, something that will raise its ugly head during the life of this parliament, if not an electoral issue in 2025. So best to get “ahead of the curve” on this matter.

    I come to such discussions firstly as a democrat who is more concerned with looking for a system that gives the fairest political representation in our parliament, given the way that the people have cast their ballot. I am not a numbers man, so I will leave how it might pan out in terms of absolute numbers to others to argue over.

    Otherwise, as a first order principal, I think the voting system should return representatives in proportion as closely as possible as the first choice of voters. Where this magic number falls, I would leave it to the more numerate people to decide such matter, as I am sure there will be some statistical theory / formula that provide a minimum threshold to achieve. But I would agree that there is no perfect way to achieve this, nor would I go so far as to say that “everyone gets a lolly”. From afar, the Israeli system seems too chaotic to achieve rational governance. But neither can I say that our present Australian system is as close to optimal as it should be.

    I come from a land use planning background and at one stage I was involved in Regional Planning (South East Queensland Regional Plan) and this level of planning always struck me as the ideal spatial level where Local; State and Federal Governments can come together to look at a range of issues, holistically and make decisions based on their own respective area and jurisdiction of responsibility. As such, it also struck me as the ideal spatial level in which political representation (and budgeting) could be based around. So if we were to have proportional representation, then I would suggest that identified regions would be the basis for that PR. In the case of SEQ, that covered an area from Noosa, down to the Gold Coast and out to Toowoomba. Out of this population cohort you would still get a good mix of representatives, potentially covering up to six different political ideologies (e.g. Labor, Liberals, Nationals, Greens, Independents and One Nation) depending on the magic formula used for minimum threshold of votes.

    If you wish to push it further, you could do away with Senate representation altogether as people’s views within the different regions they will be better reflected by their proportional representation, rather than existing senators who rarely vote on State based issues, let alone on specific regional issues.

    A further benefit could be that the Federal budget can be realigned (where possible and appropriate) to also include a regional budget for specific matters identified through the regional planning process.

  10. Let’s not completely rule out first past the post. It does have the distinct advantage that it forces the voter to make a choice about who they truly want as their representative. No thoughts like – I’ll vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party #1 but if they don’t win my number 2 preference will elect Boris (although one does sometimes wonder whether Boris and the MRLP would be a perfect political union….).

    One other factor, and probably more important than the election method, is the fact that voting is compulsory in Australia. This has probably distorted representation more than any other factor.

    Namely, if a motivated English green voter – lets call him Ben – will vote regardless of whether voting is compulsory Ben’s vote is equal to 1/ number of votes cast. Bettie and Bill really don’t care about whose in power and stay home to watch coronation street. Ben’s Green candidate is elected because there are no other voters.

    Ben, Bettie and Bill move to Australia and are now on the electoral roll. As voting is compulsory they all go out to vote. Ben votes green but Bettie and Bill don’t really care one way or the other both decide to to vote for Lord Voldemort as their grandchildren like Harry Potter. And Lord V gets elected. And Ben’s vote is now worth 1 / number of voters.

    While this is an extreme example it does illustrate the potential distortion of compulsory v voluntary voting.

    One other observation – the change to optional preferential voting (“OPV”) in QLD and NSW from straight preferential voting have effectively turned preferential voting into first past the post. Without having the figures at hand it is much rarer for the second (or even third) placed candidate to win under OPV than preferential voting. Hence the merger of the liberals and nationals in QLD.

  11. I’m pretty happy to rule out FPTP.

    You can achieve the same outcome of having people focus on who they actually want to win with a PR system too, but I really don’t think it’s a problem with the current system.

    And no I don’t think OPV is the same as FPTP, although it is a bit closer to it than CPV.

  12. I’d rule out FPTP too.

    A voter being forced to not vote for their first preference, and basically limited to only voting for who they prefer out of the two ‘most likely’ candidates to win so that their vote isn’t wasted or they don’t unintentionally help their least preferred candidate, just reinforces the two party system too much and disguises the true support for minority/smaller parties and candidates which stunts their growth.

    For example the Greens could never have got to the point of winning seats like Melbourne at all, let alone on first preferences this time, if they hadn’t had a chance to build their vote over time and a FPTP system would stunt that growth; because it becomes a risk that a split left-wing vote might install a Liberal in a very left-wing seat.

  13. Thanks Ben. A great essay offering lots to think about.

    I’d like to see more discussions about the relative merits of a collaborative rather than adversarial parliament. Many (most?) municipal councils around Aust operate effectively with a collection of independent community reps who discuss each issue before them on its merits. The absence of parties and an ‘opposition’ are a good thing.

    How about multi-member proportional representation structure for the House of Reps and sortition for the Senate?

  14. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who advocates FPTP with single-member electorates is anti-democracy. Taking away my right to express preferences is halfway towards taking away my right to vote altogether.

  15. Another option to FPTP and preferences would be to just tick any candidate that you are happy with e.g. a right leaning voter might tick Lib, National, One Nation and left-leaning voter might tick ALP and greens only

    Then the candidate with the most votes wins
    This could potentially favour 3rd way parties for example if there are only 3 candidates ALP, LNP and IND, the split might be ALP 40%, LNP 40% IND 20% with ALP/LNP voters all putting IND second preference – then the winner is whoever out of ALP/LNP the IND voters prefer. By selecting who you don’t mind you could end up with the IND getting the win if most of the LNP and ALP voters also tick the IND candidate

  16. 1. The constitutional problem with MMP is not just the issue of districts crossing state borders. States have a fixed number of representatives and MMP requires at least ‘float’ own the number of MPs. While the German Bundestag nominally has 535 members, the need for compensatory and balance seats means that the current Bundestag actually has 735 members. That’s just not possible under a constitution that fixes the total size of the parliament.

    It’s also not clear that the threshold, which is a particular features of MMP would survive the Direct Elections clause. In particular the Nationals would have to either merge with the Liberals or be excluded from most parliaments.

    2. Bazza
    Approval voting has been tried in a number of large professional organisations ub row US. It’s always abolished after 1 or 2 elections because people tend to vote for only 1 candidate and it just defaults to FPTP. Its never been used for any public election to my knowledge, but political parties especially the major parties, would campaign strongly for people to vote for only 1 candidate.

  17. A complex issue. Two concerns with PR: (1) I worry that large electorates returning five members under proportional representation (necessary to be five I believe because Tasmania constitutionally must elect a minimum five members and because its a prime number) would diminish the prospects of potential members of parliament who may have substantial support in a particular geographic area and not across the whole multimember electorate which would have a average of more than a million people (25 x 5 for 25.7 million people and growing). (2) Small ratbag parties such as UAP and ONE could as likely hold the balance of power in the HoR as they currently do in the Senate. This mocks the basic idea of PR that the proportion of votes should lead to a similar proportion of political power. Given how the numbers of other parties fall the small parties could either have stacks of power or none at all. Conclusion; their ain’t no perfect system – but I’m happy with what we have (except for more savings provisions to reduce informal voting).

  18. Bazza, you are describing approval voting, but as Alan says, when it’s tried it usually just reverts to FPTP because marking a second box can harm your first preference, so people just tend to mark one box.

    Anyway the problem is not with the electoral formula, it’s with single-member districts.

    Alan, Germany is particularly fastidious about overhang seats, I’m not sure that’s necessary. Scotland doesn’t do overhang seats at all. It’s not quite so perfectly proportional but I’m not sure that’s such a big problem.

  19. Neil, that is a concern, but a few points:
    -Your calculations assume 125 seats. The House is actually 151. I’d also suggest expanding the House to about 175 seats by increasing the number of senators per state to 14. So that would offset it a bit.
    -You don’t necessarily have to set the magnitude to Tasmania’s level. After all, other states won’t necessarily have an easily divisible number of seats. You’d need to set a target magnitude and in some cases have districts with more or less seats to reach the state’s entitlement. Tasmania would probably be 1×5, ACT 1×3, NT 1×2, whether the target magnitude is 3, 5 or 7.

  20. I’m for more proportional representation, however would still like to retain single member electorates as part of that as it provides accountability at a more local level. People can also argue we already have a PR body in the Senate to balance the House of Reps which itself uses instant-runoff voting which is fairer than the FPTP alternative. It seems very difficult to reform Parliament in a way that is in equal parts proportional, constitutional and utilitarian, but would be interested in any viable models of reform people might suggest.

  21. I don’t understand why you are comparing so much to Canada, which uses a FPTP system, and where voting is not compulsory. Those two things together promote campaigning for your base, rather than looking for consensus, which I think explains why there are fewer coalition governments in Canada.

  22. Malcolm,

    NSW elected its legislative assembly by proportional representation 1920—1926 by STV. Electorates had magnitude 5 in the metropolitan area and magnitude 3 in other areas. STV advocates worldwide were ecstatic that the district of Sturt, in far west NSW, could elect 3 members by STV in a huge geographical area with very primitive transport and communications.

    So long as each member represents the same number of people, STV does not require that all districts have the same magnitude. I think there is an at least arguable case for a small number of districts with magnitude 1 in remote areas.

  23. Once Senate data comes out, I’d like to see what each state would have elected as an at large district (so if NSW elected 47 “senators”). You’d need to extend candidate lists for the majors or else they’ll run out, and some mechanism to prevent BTL votes “exhausting”.

    Also interested in multi member electorate results..You can allocate divisions by using the rule: divide the state into 3 and 5 member districts (e.g..NSW is 4 5s and 9 3s), but you may want some 7s or even 9s and would need to come up with some rules to figure out how many, as well as decide on district groupings.

  24. Tasmania, SA, WA and QLD are already multiples of 5 so it would be good to at least see those results.

    Splits can be (arbitrarily chosen):

    SA: Grey, Mayo, Barker, Spence, Kingston (Outer Metro and Rural), and the rest (Inner metro)
    WA: O’Connor, Durack, Forrest, Canning, Hasluck/ Perth, Curtin, Moore, Cowan, Pearce /Swan, Burt, Fremantle, Tangney, Brand (Rural, North Metro, South Metro – not a neat split but Hasluck has some Kalamunda area)

    Leichhardt, Kennedy, Herbert, Dawson, Capricornia (“North Qld”)
    Fadden, Moncrieff, McPherson, Wright, Forde (“Gold Coast”)
    Maranoa, Flynn, Hinkler, Groom, Wide Bay (“Regional Southern Qld”)
    Fairfax, Fisher, Longman, Petrie, Dickson (“Sunshine Coast and Moreton Bay”)
    Blair, Oxley, Rankin, Bonner, Bowman (“South of Brisbane”)
    Brisbane, Ryan, Griffith, Lilley, Moreton (“Central Brisbane”)

  25. The easiest division of NSW would be 9 districts of magnitude 5 and keeping Parkes (393,413 km sq) and Farrer (126,590 km sq) as districts of magnitude 1.

    Queensland is more difficult because there are 4 remote seats. The solution would be 4 districts of magnitude 5, 2 of magnitude 3, and 4 of magnitude 1.

    The ACT Proportional Representation (Hare-Clark) Entrenchment Act 1994 requires only odd magnitudes.

    Magnitudes above 9 are undesirable because of long ballot problems. The increase in proportionality with larger magnitudes is marginal but the decrease in accountability is not. And 5 does have the advantage that it’s divisible into many more numbers than 7 or 9.

  26. Daniel,

    Yes there are some differences with Canada, and the use of AV rather than FPTP makes it more likely the winner of our 2PP wins overall, but the main factor in Canada’s elections is single member electorates, and i think the results in the northern suburbs of Sydney and in Brisbane showed a microcosm of the possible wave effects that could happen under our voting system.

  27. John and Alan, I’ve split up the country into districts with target magnitudes of 3, 5 and 7. I haven’t retained any SMDs but I am now thinking that the NT would do better to keep its two districts rather than create a 2-member district.

  28. The most extreme forms of PR exist in the Netherlands, South Africa and Israel where there are no electorates at all rather elected at large. Israel and the Netherlands are probably the most multiparty systems in the world. Our electoral system with single member electorates is designed for geographical and socioeconomic diversity rather than political diversity. I actually like the German MMP model used in Scotland, NZ, Wales. FPTP leads to tactical voting and also i think the concern of wasted voted and the spoiler effect mean that parties like Greens may actually do worse outside their core seats. It maybe the case that seats like Jagajaga, Higgins, Griffith and Macanmara would be mostly liberal held under FPTP.

  29. Unless you have the same numbers of MPs per division in a PR, a perverse sort of gerrymander starts to operate – for example in a 3 member seat a party that gets 23% of the vote would get no seats if all the other parties get 25.1% but in a 5 member constituency they easily get elected. In my ideal system, we would have a 5 member seat with Robson rotation so that there is competition within the party lists but how you would get 5 member seats to work within the existing state boundaries and without a distortion will be a big problem. My problem with MMP systems is not with the individual seats but with the list – a bit like senate lists now – a list populated by anonymous party hacks. The other issue I have with the NZ system, is that single seat candidates also have a list position so if they lose their seat they can stay in parliament. There should at least be a rule that a sitting single seat MP cannot be on the list and if the voters say ‘Sayonara’ – off they go.

  30. I generally agree about having the same magnitude but I think that principle may need to be compromised. And it’s not possible to do it perfectly with state allocations under our constitution.

  31. I much prefer PR-STV over MMP or party-list, because all representatives are directly elected. I think that is an important principle to uphold:


    – The views of representatives should reflect the views of the electorate.
    – Members of representative bodies should be directly elected.
    – Each vote should have equal value.
    – Electors should have the maximum opportunity to indicate their democratic preferences.
    – Representative bodies should be able to form a majority.
    – Candidates should have an equal opportunity to attract votes.
    – A majority of votes should elect a majority of members.

    It is certainly possible to define predominantly 5-member districts, using a single supplementary district (if required) that will return somewhere between 5 and 9 (located in the centre of the city with the highest population density).

    For example:
    – NSW: eight 5-member districts and one 7-member
    – VIC: six 5-member districts and one 8-member
    – QLD: six 5-member districts
    – WA: two 5-member districts and one 6-member
    – SA: two 5-member districts
    – TAS: one 5-member district
    – ACT: one 3-member district
    – NT: one 2-member district

    Other options are possible with PR-STV, such as:
    – NSW: six 7-member districts and one 5-member
    – VIC: four 7-member districts and two 5-member
    – QLD: three 7-member districts and one 9-member
    – WA: one 7-member district and one 9-member
    – SA, TAS, ACT, NT: as above


  32. I once tried redistributing NSW into 16 electorates, as if each were to elect three members each. I found that drawing electorates of that size while still respecting of community of interest is very challenging. I had to have Port Macquarie in a Hunter / New England electorate, an electorate spanning from Blacktown to Ryde, and the western NSW electorate went all the way from the Blue Mountains to the South Australian border (covering the vast majority of the state by area).

  33. Nicholas, it depends what you mean by ‘community of interest’. Interests don’t have to be geographical, or continuous over time. The electoral system should be neutral, and allow communities of interest to emerge and vote for the representatives they desire. One election could turn on climate change, the next election could hinge on another issue.

  34. I must say, the idea of PR-STV with districts of varying magnitudes is starting to grow on me. This has been an enlightening conversation.

  35. Still, my biggest concern is that it’s going to be very difficult for redistribution committees to draw sensible boundaries.

  36. Nicholas, some of these concerns are already present when considering a few PR systems like Tasmania’s Legislative Assembly. It uses the same House of Reps districts with 5 members each, but there are certain issues like Lyons which although is mostly rural in nature also extends just into the Hobart metropolitan area. Franklin also abuts both sides of the Derwent River estuary, and these issues are likely to be amplified in the future as Hobart’s outer suburbs continue to grow.

  37. Many of these issues would be a lot more manageable with a larger assembly. Australian aprlaimentds are very small by world standards.

  38. So I tried subdividing Greater Sydney into four five-member and one seven-member districts, which is how Greater Sydney would end up under Jeremy’s proposal. We also have the requirement that the seven-member district must be the “Sydney” district.

    Here’s how it went:
    • Wollondilly + Camden + Campbelltown + Fairfield LGAs are almost enough for our first five-member district. Throw in parts of Penrith LGA south of the M4, and southwestern parts of Cumberland LGA (approximately the area currently within the Division of McMahon) and we’re all good!
    • Okay, now for a northwestern metropolitan district. We’ll take all of Blue Mountains, Penrith (excluding parts south of the M4), Blacktown, Hawkesbury, and The Hills LGAs. Not bad.
    • Let’s turn our attention to what will become of the Sutherland Shire. To make up another five-member district, we’ll have to unite it with the entire St George area and all of Canterbury-Bankstown LGA. I’m sure Sutherland Shire residents will love that… oh well…

    Now we have to divide the remainder into a seven-member district and a five-member district. Our five-member district could be the North Shore (including Ryde and Hornsby) and Northern Beaches. That’s pretty ideal. But then our seven-member district ends up spanning from the Eastern Suburbs to Parramatta!

    Alternatively, the seven-member district extends as far west as Ashfield, and includes the Northern Beaches and Lower North Shore (excluding Ryde). A bit awkward. The five-member district centres on Parramatta, but puts Lindfield, Merrylands, and Burwood all in the same district!

    I actually think this “large district in the city” to be a huge obstacle. The CBD is typically where multiple corridors meet, and this makes it one of the most annoying areas to have to draw a very large district.

  39. Nicholas, the proposal for mostly 5-member districts with a single supplementary district proposes to locate the larger supplementary district in the city, where the population density is highest. In other words, start with the 7-member district and then proceed to the 5-member districts. Remember that the new multi-member districts don’t have to exactly match existing boundaries.

    Also, to all readers, if you’re interested in PR-STV, feel free to join your local branch of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia!


  40. Nicholas, I see a comparison to the ACT legislative assembly when it had the old 17 member configuration. In that case, it featured two 5 member districts and one 7 member district. The 7 member district (Molonglo) spanned the CBD, Woden and Gungahlin areas. That’s probably not too different from the configuration you described where you have a district spanning communities both north and south of the CBD.

    Although you could argue that Canberra and the ACT is more uniform and hence having a district covering areas both north and south of the CBD is not as disruptive as trying to do it in a place like Sydney.

  41. @Jeremy

    I originally started by attempting to draw the seven-member district. I tried keeping it on the south side of the harbour and out of Parramatta. The result? The Sutherland Shire ends up in a district with the Macarthur Region or with Wollongong!

    And no, I have not sought to match existing boundaries.

    @Yoh An The problem with that comparison is that a seven-member electorate at the federal level requires around 850,000 voters – double the size of the entire ACT!

  42. I used to be a supporter of PR, now I am not. There are a few reasons, but I have swung around to thinking the integrity of the political/parliamentary system is more important than reflecting the ‘views’ of the electorate. That is, if you vote for a party’s platform and they win Government, you expect them to keep their promises, not have to compromise to get approval from a smaller grouping to win Government.

    Generally, PR works when there are 2 main parties and various hangers on. Once those ‘hangers on’ start to extract their pound of flesh, the system fragments and you get rampant instability.

  43. “…the integrity of the political/parliamentary system is more important than reflecting the ‘views’ of the electorate. That is, if you vote for a party’s platform and they win Government, you expect them to keep their promises, not have to compromise to get approval from a smaller grouping to win Government.”

    In other words, you don’t believe in democracy; you’d prefer something closer to a dictatorship lite.

  44. Our electoral system certainly needs reform, and I’m 100% in favour of PR. However, I don’t think this statement of yours “Is it really a fair result for a party that wins less than a third of the vote to win total control of government?” is a good reflection of what happened. There is no ‘total control’ of government unless a party has a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. And the Senate has roughly 1/3 of its members being Labor which is about the proportion of people that voted Labor. The Senate can do many things to prevent ‘total control’ such as rejecting or defeating legislation and questioning Ministers through the committee system.
    I agree with your statement that ‘First Past the Post’ is not the way to go; it would be a massive step backwards. If this election had been held under First Past the Post, I think there would have been around 73 Liberal-National MPs and no increase in Independents. In other words, effectively no change. Preferential voting in single districts is far from the best system but it’s better than First Past the Post.

  45. Stephen, I chose my words carefully. I said “government”, not “parliament”. They don’t have total control of law-making, and it’s true that regulations can be disallowed etc, but there’s still a lot of power that comes from being in government that doesn’t require Senate agreement.

  46. It’s my belief that local representation is important, especially in a place like Australia with so many areas with very low population density. It’s already easy for law-makers to utterly disregard the needs of people living in remote areas and a switch to PR would certainly exacerbate that. However, I also agree that PR is a fairer system overall and that overall yes, a party with 33% of the vote should have to force Governmental power with other parties.

    So with that in mind, I think the system we need is to flip the houses. A proportional chamber from which we form the government and from where legislation is introduced, and a house of review made up of local representatives, where bills that make things worse in certain areas of the country or do not address the needs of the people living there can be flagged. amended or tossed out as appropriate.

    I’m not sure that such as system could be workable without significant constitutional change, so I don’t see it happen, but a kid can dream…

  47. Doesn’t look like I can edit my comment above…
    ” should have to force Governmental power”

    should be “should have to SHARE Governmental power”

    and I don’t know what my brain could possibly have been doing when I typed that…

  48. The problem with your view Tom is that you want to throw the views of the much larger number of people who voted – and lets be honest we are talking ALP and Greens here – for the ALP away so the Greens can get some of their policy platform. This has always been a tension in the coalition which finally exploded at this election, and will be whenever you have coalitions.

    Look lets be realistic, most people here, including me, look back at the Gillard Government as one of the best Governments we have had, in part due to the negotiations with Greens/independents to get things through. But to a large percent of the population, quite probably a majority, it looked like backroom deals were done so that the ALP could form Government, not simply the Greens/Indies deciding which of the majors they would support through confidence and supply. What I don’t want to see is instability, which is what causes trust in Government to drop, or reneging on deals (which happened with Wilkie) meaning a single person has the power to bring down Governments. Great for the press and political junkies, not so much for population at large.

    Note this is different to having a proper house of review where each individual piece of legislation is reviewed before being passed, proper scrutiny which is really only available where you have a large cross section of interests available. I would even like to see a bigger senate so we have more interests represented there, provided of course we skip the deal making.


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