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Thursday, 6 May 1915

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) . - In resuming the debate on this important question I wish to place on record my appreciation of the cordial manner in which the honorable member for Angas received my criticism, which was given with no party bias, though I admit that I speak purely as one who is in favour of party Government, because I cannot seethat any other system is likely to be introduced in Australia, at any rate in our time. The motion of the honorable member for Angas refers to the proportional system as I know it in Tasmania. In that State we first introduced the Hare-Spence system, which was later improved upon by the late Mr. Justice Clark. That gentleman gave a lot of attention to the matter, and was assisted by Mr. R. M. Johnston in evolving the system up to its present form. As a result, there is in Tasmania a system of proportional representation equal, if not superior, to any system in the world. Recently I read that the authorities in England are about to send out a Commissioner to inquire into the working of the proportional voting system in Tasmania. Therefore, I think I shall be justified in taking that -system as the basis of my arguments on this motion. Since speaking on this subject a fortnight ago I have hadan opportunity of looking into some documents I had in hand, and I propose to quote somewhat fully this afternoon from a very valuable report submitted to the Parliament of Tasmania by Mr. H. E. Packer, the then Chief Electoral Officer in Tasmania; Mr. E. L. Piesse, LL.B., Assistant Deputy Returning Officer for the districts of Denison and Franklin; and Mr. J. F. Daly, who is now the Chief Electoral Officer of Tasmania. Mr. Piesse is a worthy son of a gentleman who did excellent work in this House. He is well known to a good number of politicians in Tasmania and throughout Australia owing to the attention he has given to the subject of proportional representation. I do not know if Mr. Piesse has any politics, but he is a great student, and I am inclined to think he has very little time to spare for practical politics.

Mr Thomas - Is that the reason why he favours proportional representation?

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - It may be. The gentlemen who drafted the report were quite unbiased. Honorable members will remember that when I was speaking to this motion on a previous occasion I pointed out that this system of voting tended to bring about a clique form of government. In my opinion, the. usefulness of the system ceases when the whole political body is divided into two great camps - the " ins " and the " outs," or Labour and Liberal. The report to which I am referring deals with the Tasmanian election of 1912, which was one of the most important elections which, has "been held under this system, and it says -

It has been assumed, in preparing the table, that a voters' party allegiance is shown by this No. 1 choice. All papers on which the No. I choices are given to Liberal candidates are assumed to be the ballot-papers of followers of the Liberal party, and so with the Labour party. The scrutiny showed that some electors gave their No. 1 choice to one party, and their No. 2 and higher choices to the other party; and in such cases it may be that No. 2 and the higher choices indicate the voter's party, and that the No. 1 choice was given to a candidate of the other party for a personal reason. _ But it is thought that the assumption is a fair one for the purposes of this table, and the table contained in the Appendix.

Mr Poynton - What is the meaning of the words, " higher choice " ?

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - It is merely a term. I am of opinion that the No. 2 choice on the ballot-paper may not be of the same value as the No. 1.

Mr Glynn - It is only used if the No. 1 choice is ineffective. The elector does not have two votes; he has an alternative choice.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - That is why the system is so unfair in electorates returning six members. My view is that the No.- 1 vote is the effective one. In the Tasmanian election of 1912, the proportions were obtained by the parties all right, but what was the result? A table in this report shows what the result was. For each electorate six members were required. In the electorate of Bass, the Liberal proportion of voters was 3.1, and the Labour proportion 2.9. The result of the election was that the Liberals returned three members and the Labour party three members. In Darwin, the Liberal proportion was 2.8, and the Labour proportion 3.2; but, again, each party returned three members.

Mr Glynn - The parties were very evenly balanced.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - The report will allow that they were not very evenly balanced. In Denison, the Liberal proportion of votes was 3.1, and the Labour proportion 2.9, and again three members were returned on each side. In the electorate of Franklin, the proportions were: Liberal. 3.4; Labour 2.6. Once more the two parties each" returned three. members. In the electorate of Wilmofc, the Liberal proportion was 4, and the Labour proportion 2, and the Liberals returned 4 members and Labour 2. The total proportions of the five electorates were: Liberal. 16.3; Labour 13.7; and the Liberals returned 16 members, and Labour 14 members. The report says; -

The table shows that not only did each party obtain in the aggregate as nearly as possible the number of members to which it was entitled-

Mr Glynn - Hear, hear! That is the point.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - The quotation continues -

But also that in each district the number of members obtained by each party was the whole number nearest to its proportional share of the representation for the district. It is clear, then, that the rules of the Electoral Act have produced proportional representation of the parties.

Then bitter complaint was made of the smallness of the majority. That is the great trouble. " But the election has resulted in the larger party having only two more members than the smaller, and it is of interest to examine how far the system of the Electoral Act must necessarily produce such result.

In speaking on the subject previously, I stated that the system of- voting advocated by the honorable member for Angas would give greater representation in the Senate to the minority, and that "the consequence would be that an Administration would have so small a majority to support it that it would be difficult for it to get its measures passed. The report from which I am reading continues -

It is to bc noticed, in the first place, that in a small House, a narrow majority must necessarily occur when parties are nearly equal in the constituencies, and that if these were larger, the majority would probably be increased relatively as well as absolutely. If each district had returned ten members in place of six, making a House of fifty, one party would probably have had twenty-eight members, and the other twenty-two, giving the sufficient working majority of six.

I have spoken of the waste of votes caused by the proportional system of voting. This is what really occurred in Tasmania during an election under the proportional system of voting -

In preparing Table V., some 37,000 papers wore considered. Losses occurred from 1,650, or about 4i per cent., of these papers, owing to cross voting. In addition to these papers, there would be others on which there waa cross voting, which did not become effective owing to election or exclusion of candidates. The total amount of cross voting is, therefore, not shown in the table; but the table shows that there was cross voting, which resulted in loss on about one paper in twenty, and that the loss from each of such papers was about half a vote.

The most important objection to the honorable member's proposal is the difficulty of counting the ballot papers. During the general election held in Tasmania on 30th April, 1912, there were six members to be elected for the constituency of Denison. The ballot papers numbered 16,600, of which 444 were rejected as informal, leaving 16,156 formal ballot papers. The quota was obtained by dividing the number of formal ballot papers by seven and adding one, which gave 2,309. I have here a fac simile of the sheet showing the counting on which the return was made. The final choice was arrived at only after the one hundred and thirtieth count. Two members were elected on the first count, because of the No. 1 votes cast for them. These were Sir Elliott Lewis and Mr. Woods. Two Labour men - Mr. Barker and Mr. Edmunds - ran very close together. Mr. Barker secured sufficient votes to keep him in the count, but not enough to reach the quota, even though he was elected. He was elected on 1,708 effective votes, Mr. Edmunds, who obtained 1,670 effective votes, being rejected. Therefore, even under the proportional system of voting, a number of persons remains unrepresented.

Mr Glynn - Any number less than the quota cannot be represented; but this system gives a fairer representation than any other.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - It is claimed for the system that it gives representation to every voter, and that it certainly does not do. I particularly emphasize the difficulty in counting under the proportional system, and I trust that some honorable member will attempt to show that there are means whereby the count-' ing can be done more easily.

Mr Glynn - I mentioned a method based on an Imperial Act, and I stated also that there could be a party block vote.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - I question whether that would work. Those whom I have named have given so much attention to this matter that I think that they must have adopted the best system obtainable. But honorable members can imagine how long it would take to prepare, for a State like Victoria, a return of Senate voting such as that which I exhibit in regard to' the State voting for Denison. Tasmania has not found the proportional system the success which it was thought it would be. The system there has brought about a party deadlock.

Mr Glynn - That may not be healthy for parties, but it may be healthy for the public.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - That is a matter of opinion. This may happen at the next election : Electors numbering 2,310 may return a candidate for Denison, and other candidates may be similarly returned for Bass and other electorates. The candidates so returned may afterwards combine, and thus sway the ma]0- rity If that happens, these candidates, who might be elected to support the closing of hotels, the handing of the railways over to private companies, or anything else, could effectively combine to force the Government to give them what they needed, the penalty for refusal being the loss of support and office.

Mr J H Catts - Does the Labour party in Tasmania favour the present electoral system there?

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - No ; it intends to amend the Tasmanian Electoral Act.

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