Increasing democracy in Australia: A plan to introduce far greater democracy into our current system of parliamentary representation

Andrew Guild writes on some of the inequalities in our current system of democracy, and proposes a new system of Actual-Number Representation with Optional List Voting (ANROLV) combined with Citizens’ Initiated Referendums to help remedy the situation.

A Discussion on Democracy

The concept of true democratic representation is where every citizen can meet to discuss and decide issues, to represent their own individual interests.

In a small society, where a couple of hundred citizens can gather together, this sort of self-representation is possible. However, in a large nation, such a form of “direct democracy”, for practical purposes, would seem to be impossible. Therefore, the next logical step has been to create a system of appointing representatives, who can represent the interests of citizens.

However, under our current system, representative democracy has become a farce. Politicians and parliament often act against the interests of the Australian people, instead of representing them. Rather than being composed of individuals who represent the interests of a particular area, parliament is now essentially composed of self-serving politicians who mainly represent the interests of a particular political party, or even just a particular faction of such a party.

The big political parties are structured in such a way so that the power to decide who shall be chosen as the party candidate for each electorate is often determined by “power struggles” and “deals” between the factions of the party (such as the many pre-selection faction dealings).

In general, when any independent candidates with good policies run for parliament, the public are almost totally unaware of them. The independents, with their limited resources (not being funded by big business and/or unions) can only put out a limited amount of leaflets into local letterboxes. The major parties obtain their validity and support from coverage by the mass media, from which the vast majority of independents are excluded.

Because of traditional voting behaviour, reinforced by media emphasis on the big parties, and the resulting common perception that only the major parties can successfully operate in government, the established parties have a virtual monopoly on attaining government. Therefore, they have become complacent in their governing of the country. They often forget, or deliberately ignore, the wishes and concerns of their constituents, deserting the very people who elected them.

Leaders of the big political parties have spoken of being “elected to govern”, rather than being “elected to represent”; this phrasing demonstrates the political thinking of the leaders of the major parties, indicating that they intend to govern according to their own wishes and the wishes of their parties, rather than according to the wishes of the people.

Political disregard for the ordinary voters apparently changes during election campaigns, when politicians are casting about for votes, making all sorts of promises to the people; but all their promises can be forgotten once they’re back in parliament, and the system turns back into just another “parliamentary dictatorship” for another few years.

Currently we have a “politicians’ democracy”, which has become merely a form of semi-authoritarian rule by the major political parties. Instead, we can have a “voters’ democracy” which enables a wider direct participation by the people, brought about by several key reforms.

These much-needed reforms are: Actual-Number Representation with Optional List Voting (ANROLV) and Citizens’ Initiated Referendums (CIR). These two reforms will not solve all of our problems; however the current climate of “parliamentary dictatorship” can be significantly altered by the introduction of these two simple democratic measures, which can bring about a culture of true representative democracy to our nation.

Actual-Number Representation with Optional List Voting

Under the present system of voting, a huge proportion of voters are not represented in their electorate by someone representing their views and values.

To be truly democratic – to have our parliamentary representatives truly represent the will of the people, to represent their views and values – we need a voting system that will enable the people to have a greater freedom of choice for their parliamentary representation.

As an example of the current system: In an electorate of 60,000 voters, Candidate A may receive 33,000 final preference votes (55%) and Candidate B may receive 27,000 final preference votes (45%), which will result in Candidate A winning the election, whereby – even though he will only be representing the views and values of 33,000 people (actually much less than that, if we refer to the candidate’s primary vote) – he will supposedly “represent” the entire 60,000 people in parliament, and put forward laws “on their behalf”, enacting policies and laws “on behalf of” and “representing” even those who hate all that he stands for.

The Actual-Number Representation with Optional List Voting (ANROLV) system gets rid of the problem of people not being properly and democratically represented in parliament, and therefore instead creates a fairer and truer democracy. Several other countries already conduct their elections with a variation on optional list voting; however, no other country in the world has developed a system of Actual-Number Representation, which is the only system that enables “one vote, one value”. That point cannot be emphasised strongly enough: No other democracy in the world has developed a system that truly enables “one vote, one value”.

In the example given in Table A, the winning candidate is from the conservative side of politics, yet instead of representing just the 55% of voters (33,000 people) who voted for (or preferenced) him, he gets to represent in parliament 100% of the voters (60,000 people), including the 45% of socialist voters (27,000 people) who opposed him. It’s a ridiculous situation. Under ANROLV, the local Member of Parliament would represent the exact number of 33,000 voters in parliament, whilst the other 27,000 voters would have the option of being represented in parliament by MPs that their favoured party has nominated.

In the House of Representatives, when a vote is called, each MP’s vote shall be that of the number of people who voted for him, and those numbers shall be counted to determine the outcome, as to whether legislation should be brought into being or not. It shall have the added advantage of forcing parliament to publish exactly who voted which way on all laws and motions, thus making MPs more accountable to their constituents.

How ANROLV works

Under ANROLV, every voter for the House of Representatives will have one vote (as is the case now). The voter will be able to vote for his local representative, using a preferential vote (like we have now), except that he will have the right to be able to direct his preference vote as he sees fit, without being forced to give his vote to a candidate he does not approve of (currently, voters are required by law to preference the entire voting list, or else their vote becomes invalid).

Using the ANROLV system, voting forms would have both a list of local candidates and an alternative list of political parties. In this way, if the voter’s chosen candidate does not get elected, or if his alternative candidates (to whom the voter has directed his preferences) do not get elected, or if the voter does not like any of the local candidates offered, then his vote will be transferred to the optional list of parties (if he chooses to use it).

As can be seen from the example in Table B, there can be times when voters would not want to pass on their preferences to certain other candidates, and forcing them to do so is wrong and undemocratic. For example, this may happen when a conservative voter does not want to preference a socialist party or when a socialist voter would not want to preference a conservative party.

Using the ANROLV voting system, not only would voters be able to give preferences as it suited them, but their unused vote (if their local candidate is not elected) may be transferred to the party of their choice, who could use it to elect “at large” nominated candidates or to distribute to their existing elected representatives.

This enables local areas to be represented in parliament, as well as electing several “at large” candidates that will represent those voters whose electorate representative does not represent their views and values. Voters still have only one vote, but it would be used properly to enable their representation in parliament.

Instead of “representing” 60,000 people in an electorate (including those who are diametrically opposed to him), a Member of Parliament will instead represent only those people who voted for him.

For example, if an MP received 42,621 votes out of 60,000, then that MP will represent that exact number of voters, no more, no less; the remaining 17,379 votes are transferred by the other voters to the party of their choice – who will use those votes to elect “at large” candidates (previously nominated by the party) and/or to distribute them to their existing elected representatives. Only the very minor parties (those who could not obtain enough votes to elect an “at large” MP) would not be represented in parliament; but, even then, their party preferences can be directed to other elected candidates, if that is their choice.

What could be more democratic than a voting system where almost everyone can be represented by a candidate or party of their choice?

Some people, Establishment politicians in particular, will object to the notion of having independent parliamentarians or having to form coalition governments, and will rave on about potential “instability”. However, Switzerland has had coalition governments for many years, and is a very stable country (it should also be noted that the Swiss also have Citizens’ Initiated Referendums).

Some votes are worth a lot more than others

Under the present system, there are enormous inequalities in the worth of citizens’ votes. Some votes are worth more than twice the value of other votes. This terribly undemocratic situation would be corrected by the ANROLV system.

It should be noted that the Australian Constitution guarantees each state at least 5 seats in the House of Representatives (which explains why Tasmania, with its low population, has votes that are worth more proportionately than all the other states). It should also be noted that the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory only have 2 seats each.

Table C shows that huge injustices regarding parliamentary representation are occurring within Australia’s democracy. Not only do the power of votes cast by citizens differ between electorates, but they can differ enormously. A vote in the Northern Territory is worth much more than any other vote in Australia; indeed, a vote cast in the Northern Territory is worth more than twice the value of a vote cast in the Australian Capital Territory. Even in the mainland states, there are huge differences, with a vote in Barker (South Australia) being worth almost a third less than a vote in Reid (New South Wales).

Would most Australians be shocked to find out that there is approximately a 50-50 chance that their vote is worth less than the votes of over half the Australian population? Voters in the Australian Capital Territory would be especially unimpressed if they realised just how much their votes were worth compared to the value of a vote cast in the Northern Territory; the inequality is staggering.

Actual Number Representation voting would efficiently ensure that all votes cast in Australia for the House of Representatives were worth exactly the same as each other, no matter where people live.

Minor parties and independents

Under the ANROLV system, many previous inequities would be resolved. It would be likely that minor parties, whose views reflect the values of a large number of people spread widely across the nation (but not concentrated enough in one electorate), would be represented in parliament. Minor parties, such as the Democratic Labor Party, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, and The Greens, would have had representation in the House of Representatives under the ANROLV system. It is also possible that an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander representative could be elected to the House of Representatives, based upon the ability of Aborigines voting across the country to vote for an Aboriginal candidate.

It is ridiculous that any political party which gains 5 to 11% of the primary votes in a House of Representatives election receives no representation from that enormously significant vote. Using ANROLV will solve that problem.

Often, in their prime, the Democratic Labor Party, Democrats, and Greens, won Senate seats, which was some consolation for achieving significant votes without winning a seat in the House of Representatives. However, in 2001 the One Nation Party won almost half a million votes and didn’t win a seat in either house, and, in a much earlier election (in 1961) the DLP also won almost half a million votes and also didn’t win a seat in either house. The DLP and Democrats often scored votes for the House of Representatives between 5% and 11% without either of them ever being elected to a single lower house seat. This would not have been the case if ANROLV was being used.

Using ANROLV would mean that Members of Parliament will represent the actual number of votes they receive, rather than misleadingly representing all of the opposing voters as well. It means that most voters can be directly represented by a Member of Parliament of their preference; whereas, at present, a huge proportion of voters are – in reality – totally unrepresented, regarding their beliefs and values. As well as this, every single vote counts; which is an enormous step forward for democracy.

With Actual-Number Representation, Members of Parliament will represent the exact number of people who voted for them, rather than falsely pretending to represent the aspirations and values of 100% of all voters in the electorate.

Such a system would also make “gerrymandering” almost impossible to implement, unlike the present system. Also, it would solve the problem of imbalances of the number of voters between electorates.

This pro-democracy system is likely to give rise to more candidates outside of the major parties winning seats in parliament. This system may well bring about a rise in the number of independent Members of Parliament, who may possibly eventually even gain ascendancy over the current regime of government by the two party machines – who have lost sight of the fact that they should represent the people, rather than ride roughshod over them, and who so often only represent their own political party or political faction instead of representing the people who elected them.

Note: If the Senate is to remain as a States’ House, with the representation of states being equal to each other (each state currently being represented by 12 Senators), then Actual Number Representation cannot be used for the Senate. Actual Number Representation would be possible if the Senate was based upon a nation-wide electorate, rather than upon state-wide electorates. This would enable wider opportunity for voters to vote for whom they wish, rather than limit their choices by constraints of state boundaries, and people could still vote for a state-orientated candidate under a nation-wide electorate system, if they so wished. However, whilst state representation may be perceived to be outdated in many ways, that may not be perceived to be the case in the less-populated states. Therefore, the Senate’s arrangement as a “States’ House” should stay that way unless ordered otherwise by a public referendum.

Citizens Initiated Referendums*

CIR can be introduced, whereby a sizable number of voters may demand a referendum on matters of importance, thus imposing the “will of the people” over political inaction and over the semi-authoritarian style methods used by politicians and their party machines. As well as introducing legislation to the people for approval, citizens’ referendums may also overturn legislation brought in by governments.

This enabling of voters to be able to start the process of bringing about a referendum on an important issue would be similar to the systems currently operating in Switzerland and many states of the U.S.A. The essential responsibility of the voting public is often shown in these referendums; for example, in Switzerland, referendums regarding tax cuts are not usually approved by the voters.

The number of voters shall be sizable, so that a referendum cannot be called upon the whim of an extremely small minority. As an example, Swiss federal referendums require 100,000 valid signatures to be collected within 18 months.

The calling of a citizens’ referendum shall be mandatory (that is, the government may not choose whether or not to go ahead with them), and shall guaranteed by the Constitution All such referendums shall be binding upon the government. This would give power back to the people, rather than being ruled by political party dictatorships.

The result: A fairer and truer democracy

This system is both practical and democratic. With Actual-Number Representation with Optional List Voting for the House of Representatives enabling truer representation, and Citizens’ Initiated Referendums enabling more public control over the workings of politicians and political parties, we can become one of the most representative and truly democratic countries in the world.

Considering the unequal balance of voter numbers between electorates in all of the democratic nations around the world, and the representatives in parliament who are actually opposed by a sizable proportion of the people that they are supposed to “represent”, this system is possibly the most democratic produced for a modern nation.

In fact, under this pro-democracy system of voting, individual votes will actually count; in current elections, once a majority of 50% is attained, all other votes are irrelevant.

Whereas many people currently feel that their votes don’t count, under this system every single vote will be important to the representatives in parliament. And whereas, due to voter imbalances between electorates, some votes are worth a lot more than others, in this system all votes have equal value.

If we were to implement the ANROLV system, Australia would become the first modern representative democracy to truly enable the principle of “one person, one vote, one value”.

Our nation deserves a fairer and truer democracy!

Andrew Guild, November 2007

* The plural of referendum can be given as referenda or referendums.

Articles of interest:
and see:

This article is based upon an essay written by the author in December 1996. The views expressed herein are the author’s own, and are not those of any political party or association. Whilst the ANROLV system apparently has merit, it should undergo critique to test it in the arena of public debate. Letters on this subject are encouraged.

“In Australia we no longer have a democracy, we have an elected dictatorship. We elect a political party one day every three years and the rest of the time, it dictates to us.” ~ Sir Mark Oliphant

“In Australia members represent their parties, not their voters.” ~ Hugh Mackay

“The idea that Parliament represents the people is simply one of the fictions of Australian public life” ~ Donald Horne

“The parties are rife with careerists, cronyism, nepotism and the fostering of corruption. They have become like two Mafia gangs vying for power to gain control of the Australian treasury to distribute benefits to those who fund them and their “mates”. Elections become multi-million dollar competitions between two advertising agencies offering false promises and election bribes. The rigid two party system is dragging the country down, resulting in endless scandals, corruption and personal abuse, and threatens democracy itself.” ~ Ted Mack

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