Sunday, November 10, 2013

Restore the House of Assembly

Given the expected vote for a change of government when Tasmanians next go to the polls in March 2014, I would propose that the new House of Assembly take up the important matter of electoral reform. 

Now, the Legislative Council has ever fulfilled its role of a properly and admittedly conservative check on the more progressive tendencies of the House; and to this end, each year a few of its fifteen members are chosen anew in local elections, so that all Legislative Councillors serve six year terms; the Council itself cannot be dissolved nor can its veto over legislation be overruled; and, uniquely in Australia, nearly all of its members are independent, and not members of any political party.

Given the fact that it works admirably, and has been but little changed since 1856 (a portrait of the young Queen Victoria still looks down upon the Council), with such minor reforms as the introduction of preferential voting in 1907, the breaking up of its two multi-member electorates in 1946, the gradual expansion of its franchise to full adult suffrage in 1968, and the equalisation of the number of voters in each electorate in 1998 (when also the original number of fifteen members was reinstated, after having slowly grown to nineteen), it seems to require no tampering with, but instead high praise.

However, the same cannot be said of the House of Assembly. This began with thirty members, a number that increased slightly, then was restored to thirty in 1907, albeit with the then-beneficial redivision of the State into five multimember electorates, each returning six members by the Hare-Clark system of proportional representation. Given the fine balance between Labor and Liberal, sometimes causing the House to be divided fifteen-fifteen, the number of members was increased to thirty-five in 1959, with seven elected per division.

But the rise of the Greens, and the consequent fracturing of politics in Tasmania, led to a somewhat cynical reduction in the number of members to twenty-five, with only five elected per division, in 1998, with the hope that minor parties would less likely hold the balance of power – though that has continued to occur, as demonstrated by the current presence of Greens as cabinet ministers. Worse still, in a House with only twenty-five members, the Government members may number thirteen or less (as presently), resulting in a distinct dearth of talent.

The time has come to secure stable, majority government for Tasmania, since minority government, though beloved of minor parties and those elements who vote for them, has proven deleterious to the State - as I would confidently predict the coming landslide victory for the previously not well regarded Liberals will confirm, given public displeasure at the continuing train wreck of a Labor minority Government in a marriage of convenience with the Greens: a Government more concerned with giving civil recognition to unnatural liaisons, and facilitating the murder of the unborn, elderly and ill, than with more mainstream priorities, such as diminishing the number of persons on welfare by in all ways assisting the economy to grow, that the dignity of gainful employment be extended to all (a human right more valuable than a pretended ability to marry oddly or just give up and die). Premier Giddings, after all, is but Gillard writ small (not literally, but figuratively).

I therefore propose - and hope I am not alone in so doing - that the House of Assembly mutatis mutandis return to its state before 1907, and abandon its distinctive but fatally flawed Hare-Clark electoral system (since proportional representation, while fine in theory, has produced weak coalition governments for too long in recent decades).

Instead, let thirty single-member electorates be established: a simple way to do so would be to divide each of the Legislative Council electorates into equal halves, so there will be the same number of electors in each, as near as may be. These would then be used henceforth to elect the House of Assembly at each future general election. This would bring the electoral system of the House into conformity with that in every other State, and the Northern Territory too, leaving only the ACT still beholden to the questionable blessings of proportional representation.

I make no apologies for the fact that this return of the House of Assembly to what was its basic structure for its first fifty years (though using preferential voting as elsewhere in Australia for the lower house of each parliament) would both guarantee a workable majority for the winning party, and eliminate the bad influence of the Greens in State politics. There would ensue the wailing and the gnashing of teeth, no doubt (no teeth? teeth will be provided!).

I can but confess my Schadenfreude at the upset this would deliver to the secularist elite. There is something sanctimonious and irritating about the holier-than-thou attitude of the Greens, redolent of the Pharisees of old: I felt sorry for Prime Minister Gillard having to sit through weekly sermons delivered by Senator Brown, I mean meetings between her and him. No doubt symbolic protests by the self-consciously left-wing and unemployed would be mounted to no effect whatsoever; and the usual suspects would wail and whine in the Fairfax media, while the Murdoch press would gloat: c'est la vie.

Jokes aside, there is every prospect that the Legislative Council would gladly vote in favour of such a reform, as would the Liberals in the House (and maybe even the Labor members too, though I assume they would secretly delight in thus disposing of their parasitic coalition partners, while publicly lamenting such an affront to democracy: it would be a strategy best designed to secure them sympathy and future votes).

Preferential voting would all but guarantee that whichever major party won a majority of the two-party-preferred vote would gain a majority, and a clear one at that, in each future general election for the House: and that both Labor and Liberal would be mighty pleased about. I do hope that common sense prevails and this my speculation comes to pass.


John F H H said...

Beingin the U.K., I am not sure how the Australian system of preferential voting works, but for myself I have always been suspicious of PR and Single Transferable Vote systems.
My own preference would be a system similar to the French: where no candidate achieves a 51% majority of all votes cast, then there is a run-off the following week between two most popular candidates.
More expensive, but gives clear mandates.
Kind regards,
John U.K.

Joshua said...

Au contraire, John, as an Australian I am proudly in favour of preferential voting - a local innovation introduced over eighty years ago - and (in general) in S.T.V. systems. Why the UK didn't vote for such a sensible reform I'll never understand.

That said, the way my own State has endured a succession of weak governments, because the House of Assembly is elected by a form of proportional representation, has driven me to suggest some needful reforms.

There would be no interest in any run-off system here; after all, preferential voting is "instant runoff". Leave the French to the French system of the moment - what are they on now, their Fifth Republic?