As we debate the Howard government’s push for four year terms and voluntary voting
Malcolm Mackerras, a leading
psephologist and academic,
examines the recent history of electoral
reform and who’s benefited most as a result:

Apart from
making trivial changes to electoral laws, federal Coalition governments in Australia do
not engage in electoral reform. That is a task they leave to Labor. On the Labor
side each significant recent Prime Minister has attempted electoral reform. Two
have been successful, Ben Chifley (1945-49) and Bob Hawke (1983-91) while Gough
Whitlam (1972-75) was substantially unsuccessful in the short term.

The major
reform was enacted by Chifley in 1948. As a consequence of his term we have
enjoyed the present semi-proportional system for the Senate which has been
operating from 1949. Both the
Chifley and Hawke reforms were unsuccessfully opposed by the Liberal Party
which believed the Labor motive was to hurt the Liberals.

Yet the
historical verdict is clear. The major beneficiary of the Chifley reforms was
the Menzies Government (1949-66) while the major beneficiary of the Hawke
reforms has been the Howard Government.

Read more on the website.

Peter Fray

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