Even those who don’t follow Victorian politics much have probably heard the news by now: that the ALP has missed out on control of the new upper house, and that relic of the 1950s, the DLP, has won two seats with less than 2% of the vote.

Steve Bracks had named reform of the upper house as his biggest achievement in government. He’s right, in that it’s a big improvement on the old system, which locked out minor parties (except the Nationals) and usually gave one of the majors a lopsided majority. But compared to any sort of ideal of fairness, it still falls a long way short.

Here’s the total share of votes received, with proportions of seats won. (These are the figures as posted on Monday; as of this morning they’ve disappeared from the VEC website).

Party % of vote Seats won % of seats won
ALP 41.7 19 47.5
Liberal 34.7 15 37.5
Greens 10.6 2 5.0
Nationals 4.5 2 5.0
Family First 3.9 0 0
DLP 2.0 2 5.0
People Power 1.0 0 0
Democrats 0.8 0 0
All others 0.9 0 0

So proportionally, the ALP and DLP representation is inflated, Liberals and Nationals are about right, and the Greens and Family First got shafted. The main problems are the size of the new regions, with only five members each and therefore a relatively high quota (the Constitution Commission had recommended seven-member regions), and group voting tickets, which automatically allocate preferences in ways that most voters remain completely ignorant of.

Maybe I’m just eccentric in thinking that seats should bear a close relationship to votes, but given that we have two houses of parliament, is it really too much to ask for one of them to be elected on that basis? New Zealand does this for its only house, and they seem to manage.

It’s not rocket science: we don’t have to just take pot luck on turning votes into seats. Other democracies do it all the time. Using New Zealand’s Sainte-Laguë method, for example, the above percentages would have returned 17 ALP, 14 Liberal, 4 Greens, 2 Nationals, 2 Family First and 1 DLP.

I understand all the arguments about the need to have local representation and to provide stable majorities. But our lower houses do this; can’t we have at least one house that gives pride of place to democracy?

Peter Fray

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