Information Sheet 16 - A New Electoral System for Victoria's Legislative Council

Introduction

The Legislative Council's electoral system was substantially reformed by the Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003 enacted in March of that year. These reforms included changes to the method by which the Legislative Council is elected, the re-drafting of electoral boundaries for the Legislative Council, the introduction of a new ballot paper, the establishment of fixed terms for both Houses of Victoria's Parliament, a reduction in the number of the Legislative Councillors from 44 to 40 and the introduction of a new process for filling casual vacancies in the Legislative Council.

Other changes included in the reform package, but not directly related to changes to the electoral system, included recognition of the principle of a government mandate, the entrenchment of certain legislative provisions, removing the ability of the Legislative Council to block Supply (annual appropriation) Bills and the establishment of a dispute resolution process for deadlocked Bills.

This information sheet examines the changes to the Legislative Council's electoral system contained within the Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003.

 

Electoral Reforms

1. Proportional Representation.

The Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003 introduced a proportional representation electoral system for the Legislative Council. The system first took effect in the 2006 election. Proportional representation replaced the preferential voting system which had been used in the Council since 1921.

Proportional representation is not the name of a single electoral system – there are several different versions of proportional representation. In Australia, the predominant version is the Single Transferable Vote (STV) method (also known as the quota-preferential system). This is the system that is now used for Victoria's Legislative Council. The method operates in multi-member electorates and has been designed to ensure that as many votes as possible are used to elect candidates, rather than excessive votes becoming wasted surplus votes. This is achieved by transferring elected candidates' excess votes (votes that would otherwise be wasted once they have obtained sufficient votes to be elected) to continuing candidates, in the voters' order of preference, until all vacancies are filled. Candidates are elected by obtaining a pre-determined proportion, or quota, of the total votes. This quota is calculated by dividing the total number of valid votes by one more than the number of seats to be filled and then adding one vote.

The quota is the number of votes a candidate needs to be certain of election, and is calculated using the formula:

 

_____total number of formal votes_____

+1 (disregarding any remainder)

(number of candidates to be elected +1)

 

For example, if there were a total of 10,000 formal votes and four candidates to be elected, the quota would be:

 

quota:

__10,000__

+ 1 = 2001 votes

 

(4 + 1)

 

 

The quota used for all STV systems in Australia is called the ‘Droop' formula first published in 1868 by mathematician and lawyer, Henry R. Droop.

The STV style of proportional representation is also used to elect the Australian Senate and the New South Wales, Western Australian and South Australian Upper Houses. Proportional representation is also used to elect Tasmania's Lower House and the Australian Capital Territory's Legislative Assembly. Prior to the 2006 elections, it was anticipated that proportional representation would increase the likelihood of a wider range of smaller political parties and independents securing a place in Victoria's Legislative Council, breaking the traditional dominance of the three major parties in Victorian politics. The actual impact of this new voting system on the representative composition of Victoria's Upper House is outlined in the table below.

 

 

55th Parliament

56th Parliament

Australian Labor Party

24

19

Liberal Party

14

15

National Party

4

2

Independents

2*

-

Greens

-

3

Democratic Labor Party

-

1

Total

44

40

 

* Note - neither independent in the 55th Parliament was elected as an independent; both were elected as members of either the Australian Labor or Liberal Parties.

2. Electoral Regions

Electorates for the Legislative Council are called regions. Prior to the passing of the Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003, Legislative Council electoral districts were known as provinces and were represented by two Legislative Councillors, meaning the Council comprised 44 Members representing 22 provinces. Victoria's Legislative Council now consists of eight regions with each region represented by five Legislative Councillors, which has reduced the total number of Upper House Members from 44 to 40.

 

New_system_clip_image002_0001

   

Old Metropolitan Electoral Provinces (above) and new Metropolitan Regions (below)

   

New_system_clip_image002_0003

 

3. The Ballot Paper – Optional Preferential Voting

  New_system_clip_image002_0007  

Another key electoral reform contained in the Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003 involved changes to the ballot paper arising from the introduction of an optional preferential voting system. The ballot paper now allows candidates to be grouped together under a party or group ticket. (See example above.)

Previously, in Legislative Council (and Assembly) elections, Victorian voters were required to mark the ballot paper with their first choice candidate by placing a “1” in the box next to that candidate's name. They were then required to write a “2” in the box next to their second choice, “3” for their third choice, and so on until all boxes next to the names of the candidates on the ballot paper had been numbered.

Amongst the reforms contained in the 2003 Act was a change that saw voters given the option of voting ‘above or below the line'. Voters simply either placed the number 1 in the box next to the group or party name for which they wished to vote, or the voter filled in below the line on the ballot paper in order to vote for multiple candidates that are listed on the page. In the latter case, the voter was required to mark their vote by placing numbers, in order of preference, next to the names of at least five candidates.

4. Fixed dates and fixed terms for the Victorian Parliament

From 2006, elections for both Houses of the Victorian Parliament now occur every four years on the last Saturday in November. All Members of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly will face election on that day.
As a result of this change, the Premier will no longer be able to nominate the date of an election. The fixed four year parliamentary term can only be varied if one of the following three circumstances occur:

  • If the Assembly passes a motion of no confidence in the Premier – in this case the Governor may dissolve the Assembly prior to the natural termination of a government's four year tenure.
  • An election may be called early if the dispute resolution process has failed to resolve a deadlock between the two Houses of the Victorian Parliament. In this event, both Houses must face the electorate. This scenario is initiated by the Premier advising the Governor of the situation and asking him/her to dissolve Parliament.
  • The third and final circumstance that could alter the election date is an ‘exceptional circumstance', such as a State wide emergency. In this situation the Governor can delay the election to the closest practical future Saturday. This can only occur on the recommendation of the Premier, who must have the support of the Leader of the Opposition.

The changes described above mean that, in effect, the parliamentary terms of Council Members have been reduced from the equivalent of two Assembly terms to a set four year term – in line with their Assembly counterparts.

5. Filling of Casual Vacancies

Another important reform to Victoria's electoral system relates to the filling of seats that become vacant in the Legislative Council outside an election period. Such a circumstance may occur if a Member decides to retire or if they die during their term in Parliament.

If a vacancy arises a joint sitting of Parliament is required to select a new Member to fill the vacancy. As is the case in the Australian Senate, if the vacating Member was elected as a member of a political party, the joint sitting must select a person nominated by that political party.

If the Member was an independent, the joint sitting is required to select a new Member that has not been a member of a political party for five years and has lived for twelve months in the region that is being vacated. In order for the independent Member to gain selection they must obtain three fifths of the support of all Members voting at the joint sitting.
The only time a joint sitting need not be held is if the vacancy occurs within three months before the seat would have become vacant due to the expiry of the Legislative Assembly.

 

Prepared by: Table Office
Department of the Legislative Council
Parliament of Victoria
Reissued April 2009

Last Updated on Monday, 24 May 2010