Electoral Democracy: Australian Prospects

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There are competing factors at play in the upcoming elections. This time, 15 parties have been approved to run in the national elections. In , there were also simultaneous local elections known as pilkada held across a large number of regions. Ahok is a Chinese and a Christian, considered to be a double-minority in Indonesia.

He was later found by a court to be guilty of blaspheming Islam and remains in jail. The upcoming elections have therefore raised important questions not only about electoral laws, but also about religion, race and money politics in Indonesia. This conference brings together a distinguished group of academics to discuss the law and politics of elections in Indonesia. Pasar al contenido principal.

Singleton, et al. Even the occasional free votes do not necessarily reflect party decisions to allow their members freedom of choice. If the party insists on discipline instead, it then may have to face the embarrassment of defections, possibly coupled with the awkwardness of penalising members for their unwillingness to abandon their individual consciences. And even if party discipline prevails, enforcing the party position still may cause lasting resentment on the part of those members who felt compelled to vote for a party position that contradicted their own intensely held views.

There have been two transformative events in the history of the Commonwealth Parliament. The first was the emergence in — of a disciplined party system; the second was the switch to PR for Senate elections beginning in To get a feel for how both events changed the Senate, we can take a moment to look at the Senate before fusion and then during the period between fusion and the advent of PR.

Ian Marsh is our guide to the pre-fusion period. In his Beyond the Two-Party System and other writings, Marsh advocates an alternative conception of policy-making in Australia that emphasizes ad hoc coalition building that would escape the constraints of the two-party system with its disciplined party voting in Parliament and its concentration on policy development within ministries and Cabinet.

He contrasts — the dynamics of contemporary policy-making, and especially the role of Parliament, with the situation that prevailed during the first years of the Federation until , when fusion occurred and the party system coalesced into the Labor Party and a non-Labor bloc.

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Parliament was a substantial arena in the —9 period. This contrasts with the dignified and ritualistic role it has come to play in the two party era. Parliament provided the prism through which cross-cutting aspirations were refracted and refined into programs and measures Parties first needed to attract substantial electoral support for their programs.

Then governments were created and unmade according to their ability to gather majority support for their measures in parliament. Furthermore, they were required to obtain majorities in two chambers. Marsh , In the first ten years, the Senate used its powers regularly against governments. It functioned as the house of minorities it was intended to be, using its committees to gather information and to build opinion among senators.

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The committees became the key institutional mechanism for investigating strategic issues. There were frequent disagreements between the houses, particularly on tariff issues. Disputes between the chambers were fierce, but accommodations ultimately were reached. Indeed, these cameo dramas became an occasion for public learning. The site of contention was not party conferences or internal party committee processes, but parliamentary committees and debates within and between the houses. The political drama constituted the setting in which the educative role of political investigation and deliberation was more fully realized.

Marsh The first case he mentions, the tariff bill, was discussed in chapter 2.

Electoral Democracy: Australian Prospects

He continues:. Conflict between the houses also arose in relation to the British Preference bill in October The H of R had suggested the amendments were unconstitutional in form. The Senate also sought provisions postponing operation of the coloured labor clause in relation to shipping. The H of R sought an amendment that had the effect of granting preference to British goods irrespective of the means of transit.

The Senate held firm after several exchanges with the H of R. The H of R ultimately had three options: to accept the amendments, to persuade the Senate, or to initiate a double dissolution. This set the pattern for future relations. Marsh — I have quoted Marsh at length because he portrays a bicameral legislative process that bears a much greater similarity to the process today than to the process during the four decades between fusion and PR Certainly this is not an oversight on the part of the author, who was an influential expert on Australian constitutionalism and especially federalism.

Instead, the lack of discussion of the Senate in his book can only reflect the fact that, throughout the period it covers, the method of electing Senators tended to produce Senate majorities that supported governments and their House majorities. There were a few occasions during this period, however, when the government did not have a working majority in the Senate.

Even when the party winning a House election also won a majority of the Senate seats contested at that election, it still might find itself without a Senate majority if it held relatively few of the Senate seats that had not been contested. An excellent example is the first parliament he portrays, the Twelfth Parliament of —, with its ALP majority in the House but not in the Senate. In some cases, the results of these calculations led to compromise and, in the case of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill of , one of the two conferences that the two houses ever have convened:.

The Senate, recognizing that the government had a mandate for a general overhaul of the [conciliation and arbitration] system, passed the second reading without division and the main fight was joined in Committee. But the Opposition Senators were divided on a number of major issues, and even at this stage compromise settlements were achieved on many clauses, to the disgust of the more stiff-necked Nationalists. The Bill returned to the Representatives with thirty amendments; these included many incidental matters to which Labor was strongly opposed However, the government, to the sorrow of its left-wing supporters, decided to negotiate through managers The Senate insisted on nineteen of its amendments and a further seven were accepted subject to modifications; in detail, it was a Senate victory, but the government gained the substance of its three main principles.

Sawer However, the situation prevailing during the Twelfth Parliament was very much the exception during the 40 years between and , when the hardening of party lines fundamentally transformed the way in which the Parliament usually worked. For all intents and purposes, there came to be only two political forces in the Parliament—the government and the Opposition—and one or the other controlled the Senate.

Party discipline grew stronger, even if it remained somewhat weaker than it now has become. It probably is fair to say that the leaders of every party would like to have the dependable support of all their parliamentary members. Yet the degree of unity in parliamentary voting that characterizes Australian parties is unusual among modern democracies.

How are we to account for it? Although there certainly have been, and are, factions and factional battles within each party, intra-party differences usually have paled in comparison with the policy differences between the parties though now it often is said—as it has been said periodically since the s—that Labor and the Coalition are moving toward the political centre and, consequently, toward each other. There are at least five other reasons why the levels of party cohesion in parliamentary voting undoubtedly would be very high even it were strictly voluntary.

First, a party has a powerful incentive to preserve its own voting cohesion if it anticipates that the other parliamentary parties will vote cohesively. A party puts itself at a terrible disadvantage if it does not actively discourage its members from crossing the floor to vote with the opposition when it knows full well that no opposition members will be allowed to cross the floor in the other direction. One reason for the increased cohesion of the non-Labor parties early in the Twentieth Century was the knowledge that they were facing a highly cohesive Labor Party.

Second, parties and their members believe that they will be more successful in presenting themselves to the public as a plausible alternative government if they appear to be united and to speak with one clear voice. A party that seems to be at odds with itself over policy risks appearing to be a party that does not know what it believes, what it is doing as the Opposition, and what it would do as the government.

The danger is even greater, of course, for the party that already is in government. And third, the simple psychological effect of peer pressure should not be under-estimated. In a world so full of uncertainties as the world of government and politics, there is great comfort for many legislators in being and remaining a member in good standing of a group with shared interests, concerns, and values. Fourth, party cohesion can greatly simplify life for Representatives and Senators.

The party develops positions for them, saving them the need to study the issues independently, identify and evaluate the various policy options, weigh the likely effects of implementing each alternative policy on their individual electorates as well as the nation, and evaluate how supporting each of the available policy options is likely to affect their own political support and futures.

Members of Parliament are free to express their sympathy with those who approach them but they also may explain that they are committed to support a contrary position taken by their parties. Finally, Representatives and Senators are fully aware that their prospects for advancement depend on their standing within their parties.

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In the case of the Coalition, the leader of the Liberal Party—in consultation or negotiation with his National Party counterpart—selects which MPs will join the government and in what capacities. So an ambitious MP has good reason to want to be seen by his or her leaders as a loyal member of the team. In the case of the ALP, it is the parliamentary party that decides which of its members will hold leadership positions; then it is the party leader who allocates these positions among the members chosen in the party room. In either case, an MP with a reputation as a rebel or a maverick or as someone who is out of step with his or her colleagues is less likely to be among those chosen for ministerial or shadow ministerial positions than Representatives or Senators of equal competence who always sit with their party colleagues during divisions.

Still, if the incentives for voluntary cohesion are not enough, there are sanctions that party leaders can and do impose to ensure that party unity in House and Senate votes is virtually perfect among ALP members and close to perfect among Coalition members. Representatives or Senators sometimes oppose their party leaders vociferously in private conversations and behind the closed doors of their parliamentary party rooms. But they may put their careers at risk if they do so publicly and, even more, if they cross the floor to vote against the overwhelming majority of their fellow party members:.

Almost every vote in Parliament—regardless of whether it is on a matter of great national importance, on a confidence motion in the government, or on a simple machinery amendment of a very unimportant Bill—is taken as if the life of the government depends on it. Jaensch 44— Some even have succeeded in replacing the leaders they have criticized: prime ministers Robert Menzies, Malcolm Fraser, and Paul Keating are examples. They must know, however, that if they fail and remain in the House or Senate, they are very likely to be relegated to the back benches for the foreseeable future.

In the Labor Party, preselection processes vary from state to state, but in all states the selection of parliamentary candidates is in the hands of some combination of state and local party members, who, in light of their own commitment to the party, naturally value party loyalty in prospective candidates and in their incumbent Representatives and Senators.

If ALP incumbents ever think about voting against the party position, notwithstanding the pledge that they have signed, they must assume that they may well be expelled from the party and, even if not, that they are very unlikely to receive another nomination from the party activists who control their future in electoral politics.

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  • In the Liberal Party, too, pre-selection is in the hands of active state or local party members. The Liberal member, tempted for whatever reason to go against the party line, must consider the effects of such behaviour on his chances to retain endorsement. If so, dissidence may not be deadly if it reflects a disagreement between national and state-local party officials or perhaps between factions within the party. Furthermore, Representatives may be able to establish such strong personal reputations with their electorates that, if their seats are marginal ones, their party may be reluctant to risk control of those seats by denying them reselection as punishment for one or more voting defections.

    Senators, on the other hand, are considerably less likely to be able to develop such protective cushions of public support when each of them is only one of 12 Senators representing an entire state. So although all electoral politics in Australia are party politics, party probably is even more important in Senate elections than in House elections. Furthermore, the mechanics of voting in Senate elections was changed in in a way that put the fate of incumbent and prospective Senators even more firmly in the hands of the officials of their parties. Before , the preferential voting system in Senate elections made it possible, at least in theory, for Senators and Senate candidates to promote their elections by capitalizing on whatever individual popularity they enjoyed, rather than relying entirely on voter support for their parties.

    The effect of the introduction of GTV has been spectacular. Senate informal voting, which averaged 9. In addition, the overwhelming number of electors [ No doubt this has been very satisfying for party managers, for each vote above the line is a vote in a party-preferred order, and to that extent is a vote controlled by a party. Bennett The difference is critical. The candidates that each major party or coalition ranks first or second on its list of six for a half-Senate election are almost certain to be elected; those ranked fifth and sixth are almost certain to be defeated.

    The third-ranked candidate will win if his or her party does well in the election; the fourth-ranked candidate will win only in the event of a landslide victory.

    In the first PR election, in , seven Senators were elected from each state. Edwards , wrote that:. One of the results of the new system of voting will be that in actual practice the choice of most of the Senators will be made in party pre-selection ballots. With 7 candidates to be elected each of the two major parties seems assured of 3 seats while the remaining seventh seat will be determined by the electors.

    Consider the case of the first Aboriginal to be elected to the Senate:. In the Liberal Party earned many plaudits for selecting Neville Bonner as a Senate candidate, and Bonner duly became the first Aboriginal member of any parliament in Australia. Eventually the Liberal Party dropped him to what was considered an unwinnable position on the party list for the election.

    Bonner resigned from the party and stood as an Independent, a tactic that very nearly won him back his seat, for he was the final candidate to be eliminated from the count. Its Representatives and Senators are elected to office as representatives and agents of the movement, so it is appropriate to hold them to a strict standard of discipline. According to Reid and Forrest:. In a system in which the assumption of Executive office depended upon obtaining and maintaining a majority in the House of Representatives, the Labor Party quickly recognized the importance of organisation and discipline.

    These, in fact, were qualities to which, in , many Labor members already subscribed, partly as a legacy of the practices and traditions of the union movement and partly as a result of the experiences of the colonial parliamentary Labor parties. Reid and Forrest For the non-Labor parties, an emphasis on discipline in practice, though not in principle, has been an essential tactical response to the challenge of a dependably united Labor Party.

    This curious belief helps to ensure that party discipline in Australia is so much more intense and rigid than it is in almost any other democratic country, including, of course, Britain. However, savvy party leaders might very well include references to the model and the behaviour it demands among the arsenal of rhetorical weapons that they deploy to ensure that all their troops head in the right direction when the division bells ring in the House or Senate chamber. The results of Senate votes, therefore, are determined by the collective, unified positions of the major and minor parties, as well as the positions of however many Independent Senators there happen to be at the moment.

    How the different parties cope with this situation is the primary focus of Chapters 6 and 7. But there is much ground to be covered before that, beginning with the obvious and interesting question: how did the parties and the Senate come to find themselves in this situation? During almost all of the first 50 years of experience under the Constitution, the potential for conflicts that are implicit in it were limited by the ability of governments, especially after the party fusion of , to secure majorities in both houses.

    The import of the data presented earlier on government strength in the House and Senate can easily be summarized: before the election, the government party or coalition usually, but not always, also held a majority of seats in the Senate; after that election, the government party or coalition usually, but not always, did not. Before , there were only two occasions—in —14 and again in —31—when the Opposition held a majority of Senate seats.

    Then in , the method of electing Senators was changed in a way that led ultimately to a reversal of this situation, so that contemporary governments usually have faced non-government majorities in the Senate. Clearly, then, the decision made in to switch to a system of proportional representation for electing Senators has made a difference. We already have noted some of the consequences of this decision; several chapters to follow will elaborate, in one way or another, on other consequences for the role of the Senate and for the relations between the Senate on the one hand and the House of Representatives and the government on the other.

    So by instituting PR, it hoped to ensure that the ALP would come out of those elections still enjoying a Senate majority even if it lost control of the House. Fusaro explains:. Because of the staggered system by which senators retire, eighteen members of the upper chamber did not have to stand for re-election in Fifteen of these were laborites.

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    Due to the increase in the size of the senate from thirty to sixty members in accordance with the Representation act of , forty-two senators were chosen in the election. Labor, with the buffer of a majority of the non-retiring senators, and with the expectation that proportional representation would result in a near-even split among the new senators, felt assured of keeping its majority in the senate. And so it came to pass.

    Labor emerged from the election with a 34—26 majority in the now enlarged Senate, but with only 47 of seats in the House. Robert Menzies, the Leader of the Opposition, could hardly have been surprised. Even before Federation, many prominent constitutional framers had expected the first Parliament to legislate for proportional representation for the Senate. Sure enough, the Barton government included Senate proportional representation in the original Electoral Act, but this was rejected in the Senate on the plausible ground that it would undermine the established conventions of strong party government.

    But over time even the partisans of strong party government came round to see the merits of the original plan. Support for PR had been expressed during the constitutional Conventions, during parliamentary consideration of the first electoral law, and thereafter. If we wish to have our Parliament made a true reflex of the opinion of the people, we must abandon once and for all the system of the block vote, a system which is absolutely uncertain in its operation and its results, and which leads at best to a majority only being represented.

    The effect of this proportional representation will be that we shall be able to secure the representation of the true majority; that a majority will be represented by its true value, and no more. Any minority which is large enough to have a quota will be represented, and, therefore, the Legislature will be a true reflex of opinion outside. Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates , 31 January —2. The Parliament ultimately disagreed and rejected PR. I say at once that this Senate is not the place where all these various shades of opinion should find representation.

    Bicameralism is in practice necessary to achieve a parliament truly representative of the people. Bicameralism helps to improve and enhance the representative quality of a parliament and to ensure that it is representative in a way in practice not achievable in a unicameral parliament. Modern societies are complex and diverse; no systems of representation are, of themselves, capable of providing a truly representative assembly.

    Adequate representation of a modern society, with its geographic, social and economic variety, can be realised only by a variety of modes of election. This is best achieved by a bicameral parliament in which each house is constituted by distinctive electoral process. A properly structured bicameral parliament ensures that representation goes beyond winning a simple majority of votes in one election, and encompasses the state of electoral opinion in different phases of development. In trying to explain why political institutions change, however, it is never a good idea to rely too heavily on arguments of principle.

    There are plausible arguments to be made in favour of either plurality or proportional electoral systems. In Australia, however, some of the election results before had been so lopsided as to discredit plurality elections and to strengthen the argument that the existing electoral system simply was too unfair to retain.

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    In Senate majorities oscillated wildly between the two major political parties Labor and successive non-Labor coalitions , both of which could expect to take their turn as the majority party in the Senate. But once the political parties became consolidated, the system began to deliver disproportionate victories to whichever party was riding high with the passing electoral majority: Labor won all of the 18 seats on offer at the election; non-Labor won all on offer at the and and elections; and Labor won all Senate seats at the election and 15 of the 18 on offer at the election.

    The electoral system usually benefited the party in government, as we have seen. When it did not, the consequences for the government were severe. The Senate was an egg that could be crushed, in the event of disagreement between the houses, if the Government had sufficient resolve to seek a double dissolution which might give it control of both houses.

    Anstey himself advocated such a course, but few of his colleagues fancied the idea. After thirteen years in Opposition most of them were looking forward to office, with or without power, and were not in the least anxious to play double or quits. By the same token the Senate majority was in no hurry to meet the people either, and so the main questions of the twelfth Parliament would be how far the Government was prepared to restrain its demands on the hostile Senate, and how much the Senate was prepared to give the Government—a delicate balancing act performed in the mutual interest of avoiding premature election.

    Souter ; and see also Denning The result was that at least fourteen government bills were defeated in the Senate during that Parliament:. Souter Throughout most of the period from to , Australia had a reasonably competitive two or two and one-half party system. There were periods when one party was stronger than the other, but the electorate remained fairly evenly divided between them. Yet Senate elections consistently produced extreme and wildly fluctuating results, results that did not always favor the government.

    On two occasions, in —14 and again in —31, the government party held only seven of 36 Senate seats. Note: all elections were half-Senate elections except for the double dissolution election of at which all 36 Senators were elected. That percentage fluctuated as much as it possibly could: twice Labor won every seat that was contested: three times it lost all of them.

    The percentage of seats that Labor won increased In only one of these elections did the Labor Party win between 40 and 60 per cent of the seats that were contested The election had given 33 of the 36 Senate seats to the United Australia and Country parties, leaving only three for Labor. To be sure, not all the pre elections had produced such one-sided results.

    Following 15 of the 18 pre elections, however, the government held less than 40 per cent or more than 60 per cent of Senate seats. By contrast, 11 of those 18 elections gave the government between 40 and 60 per cent of all House seats.

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    Senate elections had produced considerably more unbalanced and disproportionate results than had House elections, and this was especially the case in , which produced the Parliament that chose to institute PR for future Senate elections. Writing in that year, Denning explains why the results of Senate elections so often were so lopsided:. As the party trend in voting for the Senate usually follows the trend in the elections for the House of Representatives, each State usually manages to return a bloc of three members of one particular party.

    That is helped by the preferential system of voting, which gives an almost unassailable advantage to the fellow-candidates of the party-nominee who gets the highest individual score of primary [first preference] votes. His preferences invariably carry number two and number three on the party ticket in with him, though their primaries might be far below the primaries scored by leading candidates of other parties. Denning Characterizing the Senate in , Souter argues that such exaggerated election results had been accompanied by a decline in the quality of representation in the Senate:.

    The Senate at this time bore little resemblance to the brave hopes expressed for it at the federal conventions. Political parties had tightened their hold on senators, particularly since the introduction of preferential voting, and it was fair to say that the calibre of senators had deteriorated.