Proportional Representation

Today Abigail spoke of the need for a proportionally elected system of government and the collaborative and more consensus driven nature that these systems bring to democracy.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (00:00:08): Over recent weeks both here and in the other place we have seen deep problems with politics and, consequently, we have seen the public's increasingly negative perception of elected representatives. The reasons for that include corruption, poor policies that promote ideology but fail to meet people's needs, a denial of science and the rising inequality that pits one section of our community against another. The populace feel ill-served for good reason. We spend far more time fighting with each other than we do fighting for them. Through single-member electorates in Australia we have created a winner-takes-all system that actively encourages adversarial politics. That spills over into the New South Wales and Australian public debate, and it is encouraged by mainstream and social media.

Currently, our system focuses on politics, not governance. Rhetoric triumphs over substance. The people we serve, our electors, are the ultimate losers. It should be our goal that the legislature reflects the people who vote for it. New Zealand is an example of multi-member proportional representation, which results in a parliament that accurately reflects the will of the people. We also have proportional representation in the Legislative Council. What would the Legislative Assembly look like if it had proportional representation? Based on the 2019 results, the Coalition would have 39 seats, which is nine less than it currently has; Labor would have 30 seats, which is six less than it currently has; The Greens would have nine seats, which is three times what we currently have; the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party would remain on three seats; Pauline Hanson's One Nation would have one seat; the Animal Justice Party would have one seat; and other minor parties would make up the rest.

In order to reach a working majority, the major parties would be forced to form coalitions. They would have to negotiate in good faith and with far more public transparency than the Liberal-Nationals Coalition currently provides. The current system produces members who are more loyal to their political party than to the people they represent. In every electorate, there is often a percentage of people who did not vote for their sitting member and who have few shared values with their elected representative. They feel short-changed and unrepresented. The current system entrenches the two major parties and allows power to flip-flop between them, which further reinforces that adversarial nature. That happens even when the two major parties are almost inseparable in their positions on policies, such as their support for coal and gas in the face of climate change.

The current system favours marginal seats, which results in governments allocating resources for electoral benefit, not societal benefit. The system also entrenches the boys' club. Global research shows that more women are elected to parliaments under proportional representation than under single-member electorates. Proportional representation requires parties to run tickets that appeal to different sections of the community, and that includes women. It allows for greater representation of minor parties like The Greens, which have far less gender bias than the old major parties. That gender balance then spreads to the major parties. We have seen that work in New Zealand. Imagine a representative system in which a group that makes up 50 per cent of the population would find itself represented in that same proportion in Parliament.

Proportional representation allows for minorities to be represented and, thus, heard. That should be of the utmost importance to members. Catherine Helen Spence was a South Australian reformist, who advocated for proportional representation as a key means of achieving the electoral rights of minorities. Women could not even vote when she began her campaign. Her fundamental principle of proportional representation was "that majorities must rule, but that minorities shall be adequately represented." She said that the minority can watch the majority and keep it straight. But the minority can only keep the majority straight if it exists in sufficient numbers to matter and to be heard.

In countries such as New Zealand and Germany, and in States such as the ACT, coalitions have formed around shared policies and goals with an improved focus on outcomes for the people. The public likes what it sees. Those governments are returned with increasing support. With a system that promotes collaboration, not competition, and with a presumption of goodwill, rather than keeping score, consensus decision-making is far more likely to result in good government and better outcomes for the people whom the legislature is ultimately designed to serve. Good government and healthy democracy are worthy goals. We can do better than our current system allows.

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