In his personal review of his legacy to South Australia, Premier Rann had two main regrets. The first was his inability to abolish the Legislative Council.

This guy got more votes than some members of the SA Upper House. Pic: AP

This has been a key aim of the Labor party for over a hundred years.

The passion flows from the fact that Labor has never won a majority of the seats in the Council.

For 70 of the hundred years, the two reasons were the property based vote, and the heavy bias in favour of the Liberal-dominated rural areas built into the electoral geography. Both were abolished in the 1970s.

But the replacement system, a single electorate and proportional representation, which Labor supported, has kept both Labor and Liberal short of a majority.

Abolition was not really a possibility. The independents, minor parties and the Liberals would never vote for it. Reform was possible, but the Rann reform plan was obviously an attempt to produce a system which would benefit Labor.

Mr Rann was also severely critical of “major parties appointing factional hacks” to the Council, whose “main contribution to political life will be factional obedience”. He makes a good point.

Labor has used the Council as a repository for faction and union members as a reward for long service. But it needs to be remembered that this is Mr Rann’s party, and there has been no public criticism of the trend towards “hacks” until now.

His second criticism was that single issue minority interests can be elected on a handful of votes, and they can have a disproportionate influence.

The “handful of votes” is true. Dignity For Disabled MLC Kelly Vincent was elected on a primary vote of 122. No Pokies Ann Bressington was elected with 32 primary votes.

But to criticise such results ignores some major party Council members who also scored very few votes.

Consider the following from the 2006 and 2010 Council elections. From Labor - Russell Wortley (152 votes), Robert Sneath (185), Bernard Finnigan (113); from Liberal John Dawkins (117), Terence Stephens (125), Jing Lee (108).

Not much sign of a massive level of support there.   

Some people believe that the key component of a parliamentary democracy is that the party which has the numbers to form a government should have the authority to govern, and to put its policy proposals into law. It should not have to run the gamut of a second house which it does not control. That is a reasonable argument.

But only if the government remains committed to full discussion, open government, freedom of information, being responsible to the parliament and, through the parliament, to the people.

Modern Australian governments do not show any real commitment to these principles. Hence the need for a second chamber which has the potential to force a government to be more democratic.

On Mr Rann’s complaints about party hacks appointed to the Legislative Council, especially when there is a casual vacancy, the solution is simple. Continue the count from the last election, as happens in Tasmania.

That way, the person who fills the casual vacancy would be elected, not appointed. On his complaints about members elected on miniscule levels of votes, the solution is again simple.

Abolish voting above the line, and allow electors to have optional preferential voting.

His proposal to abolish the Council altogether may find more support if the House of Assembly was reformed.

At a minimum, those reforms would include proportional representation in multi-member electorates, optional preferential voting, an independent Speaker, a proper committee system in the parliament, and much more respectful and civilized behaviour in the house.

Until then, the Legislative Council does have a real role to play. 

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32 comments

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    • centurion48 says:

      08:02am | 06/10/11

      @Dean: Interesting article and thanks for raising it. I would be interested to hear your reasons why a single house parliament could not work because it seems to get the job done in Queensland.
      Taxpayers today are sick of politicians generally (at every level) and see no value for money in an upper house that does not even attempt to fulfill its role but simply votes along party lines and can be held to ransom by unpopularly elected single-issue MLCs. The fact that Labor fills the upper house with second-grade party hacks strengthens the case for abolition of all upper houses at state level. I believe they are now a relic of the past.

    • John says:

      08:07am | 06/10/11

      of course Gaddafi got more votes, when you have savage NATO paided mercenaries running around Libya with an al-qaeda ideology, sawing and hacking NATO enemy targets with axe’s! Who else do you have to vote for? NATO mercenaries are committing these wars crimes! Should Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron face WAR CRIMES? for being the commanders and architects of this disaster? Why no charge the UN for war crimes! Since they started this war! also Why not add the Western Media, since they were are part of war propaganda to start and sustain this war.

    • Huey says:

      09:49am | 06/10/11

      @ John, I have not made eye contact and I am backing away slowly!

    • Ben says:

      01:22pm | 06/10/11

      Lol, John votes Greens. Awkward…

    • ibast says:

      08:19am | 06/10/11

      “But only if the government remains committed to full discussion, open government, freedom of information, being responsible to the parliament and, through the parliament, to the people. “

      For this reason I would like to see political parties banned in the lower house.  I can’t see how you could possibly do it, but our political system would be better for it.  Keep the party politics to the upper house and have true electorate representatives in the lower house.

      Until then I think the upper house does job of keeping some balance in our political system.  I think it worked best when the Australian Democrats held the balance of power.  Being center party and being democratic meant the Australian parliamentary system worked.  Unfortunately it hasn’t worked very well since, especially since the two major parties shifted right and sullied themselves with populist policies.

    • Anna C says:

      08:23am | 06/10/11

      I think we should abolish all upper houses of parliament because all too often the wishes of the majority of the people are held hostage by minor political parties. Why should minor political parties and Independents who get less than 10% of the vote be able to hold the balance of power and dictate terms to the government?  Doesn’t sound much like democracy to me.

    • ibast says:

      09:14am | 06/10/11

      Whilst some commentators would have us believe this is how it is, the reality is quite different. Consider for a moment is a majority party in the lower house could pass whatever they wanted.  Chances are they were voted in with barely 50% of the vote.  Now, not everyone who voted for them would approve of that particular policy.  Some who voted for the opposition, however, might.  So maybe only 45% of the population would approve of it.

      On the other hand, the upper houses tend to drive legislation back to the centre.  So you usually end up with a legislation passing that 60%+ of the population approving of it.

    • Erick says:

      09:31am | 06/10/11

      @AnnaC - That’s not true at all. Parties with 10% of the vote can’t control anything, unless they team up with other parties making a total majority in the Upper House. Same goes for the Lower House. Don’t buy the government propaganda.

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      10:01am | 06/10/11

      @AnnaC- Not true. The only reason minor parties may hold the balance of power in a upper house is that opposition parties routinely oppose government legislation. If the opposition votes with the government then the minor parties hold nothing. The political party system is the true bastardization of democracy…

    • Anna C says:

      11:15am | 06/10/11

      @ Erick and Shane From Melbourne

      Why do I want to abolish the Legislative Council in NSW? The Shooters’ Party, Christian Democrats ... need I say more.

      Why do I want to abolish the Senate? Because of the Steve Fielding’s and Brian Harradine’s of this world. Remember them?

    • Erick says:

      11:41am | 06/10/11

      @Anna C - So, in other words, you want to abolish the Upper House not because it is undemocratic, but because some people you don’t like have been elected to it?

      You might as well want to abolish democracy, then, because in a democratic society there will always be some people you don’t like getting elected.

    • Anna C says:

      12:50pm | 06/10/11

      Erick I like my political parties to be mainstream, occupy the middle ground and to represent the interests of everyday people. I don’t like ultra left-wing, ultra right-wing or religious parties and individuals holding the balance of power especially when their influence and power is completely disproportionate to the actual percentage of votes they receive during an election.

    • Erick says:

      01:09pm | 06/10/11

      @Anna C - You like certain types of political parties, and other people like other types. Voting in a democratic system produces an outcome that reflects the preferences of different people.

      The fact that you don’t agree with other people’s preferences is not a justification for getting rid of democracy. And, as I’ve already shown, there is no such thing as a tiny minority party running the show by itself. There is always a more numerous alliance required for that.

    • Ben says:

      01:27pm | 06/10/11

      Unrepresentative swill.

    • Craig of North Brisbane says:

      01:39pm | 06/10/11

      Anna C: I don’t like the likes of John Madigan or Steve Fielding (or Eric Abetz) cluttering up the Senate - but these people got enough votes from the public to be legitimately elected.  That 10% on the fringe left or the fringe right are entitled to have their views represented in parliament too, no matter how much we disagree with them.  This is also why we don’t have a winner-takes-all system where one party gets 100% of the seats in the lower house even if they get the majority of the votes.

    • Anna C says:

      02:20pm | 06/10/11

      Craig of North Brisbane, I’m not saying that the fringe left or the fringe right are entitled to have their views represented in parliament. What I do object to however is when the views of these people hold too much sway in politics. An example of this was Brian Harradine’s insistence that the use of the abortion drug RU486 be restricted because of his Christian and conservative values even though Australia is a secular country.

    • PTom says:

      03:15pm | 06/10/11

      If you are looking at the Federal level.
      At the last election the only parties that got more then 10% was
      Labor 35.1% A combine Liberal/National group 21.4% and Greens 13.1%

      Liberal only group 8.9%
      National only group 0.3%
      Country Liberal 0.3%
      Liberal National Party 7.98%
      Coaltion over all got 38.9% (4 combined)

      Family First, Sex party, Shooters & Fishers, Liberal Democrats, Christian Party and Demoratic Labor actual got between 2% and 1% for a total about 9.6 %

      Yet look at who got the number in the senate
      15 Australian Labor Party
      12 Liberal
      3 Liberal National Party of Queensland
      6 The Greens
      2 The Nationals
      1 Country Liberals
      1 Democratic Labor Party

      So who is actual over representative with 18(45%) seat but only got 38% of the votes.

    • TheRealDave says:

      09:08am | 06/10/11

      Its called ‘Checks and Balances’. Qld got rid of its Upper House in the 1920’s….you have to wonder whether the corruption and abuses of the Bjelke Petersen regime would have ever gone as far as they did if there was a House of Review or if some of the gross incompetance of the Beattie/Bligh governments have been passed over so easily.

      The reason why the Upper House has been a bastion of Conservatism is that up till recent times it was the house of Landed Gentry and every Sir Double-Barrelled Name could get a gig in it.

      Less Politicians is a good idea, but we still need to keep our current system of ‘Checks and Balances’. I am always wary of people who advocate getting rid of a strength of our system of Democracy for no good reason. So should everyone else. They aren’t usually doing it for the benefit of us mug punters.

    • PsychoHyena says:

      10:11am | 06/10/11

      I agree, you just need to look at what happened when Howard had full control of both Houses. I’m just glad he never had the chance to fully flex his muscle there.

    • Benevolent Rapscallion says:

      10:59am | 06/10/11

      We’re overgoverned with 3 levels of government in this country. If we get rid of the state govts then Rann achieves his goal at the same time. Killing 2 birds with 1 stone - that would be the most efficient our government has ever been.

    • ibast says:

      11:21am | 06/10/11

      The most remiss thing about Kevin Rudd was that when he first came to power he had all the state and the federal parliament under the one political party.  The opportunity existed at that time to hand large chunks of responsibility over to the federal government and thus pave the way for the future elimination of State governments or councils.  I don’t think we’ll ever be in that position again.

    • Ben says:

      01:31pm | 06/10/11

      Like John Howard and Bob Hawke agreed at a public debate a few years back. You get the feeling that if we were starting this country all over again we would do it without state governments. If we want to abolish the states, elect Abbott. It’s on his wish list in Battlelines.

    • Graham S says:

      12:09pm | 06/10/11

      Forget about abolishing State Upper Houses of Parliament which are inhabited by unemployable, lazy hacks whose only ambition is to ride the Parliamentary gravy train, but concentrate on abolishing the States and the hundreds upon hundreds of mainly useless paper shufflers with a massive duplication of resources state by state & repeated Federally in a country of 22 million, 2/3s that of California. ACT for example has a chief minister who should be called the Mayor; NT has a Billion dollar “town hall” and the population of a small country town. Tasmania with it 600,000 people would fit comfortably in the Melbourne’s Cities of Monash & Casey yet we’re talking about SA’s Upper Houser. SA should be abolished for all it’s worth being an economic basket case as should every other state. States bordered by rivers or lines drawn arbitrarily on maps over 100 years ago have no relevance to todays population centres and economic zones. A whole raft of different legislatures, differing laws, no commonality; the list could go on.  The states as they are currently structured are an anachronism in the 21st century and not needed Maybe one day and not in my lifetime, the self serving, self interested no hoper politicians will rationalise the stupidity of the states and vote to abolish them but that would really overturn the gravy train.

    • Craig of North Brisbane says:

      01:42pm | 06/10/11

      Graham, I think you need to take a deep breath, have a lie down, and stop reading the CEC website.  It can’t be good for you mate.

    • Occam's Blunt Razor says:

      12:10pm | 06/10/11

      Queensland does without one.  Why should there be a difference between States?

    • Erick says:

      01:16pm | 06/10/11

      Indeed, why should there be a difference? Queensland ought to reinstate its Upper House.

      Removing it was a big mistake, since it means there are no checks on what a government can do. This was exploited by Joh Bjelke=Petersen, as well as by subsequent Labor governments.

    • Craig of North Brisbane says:

      01:41pm | 06/10/11

      Having a go at Kelly Vincent is a bit harsh, since the main reason she’s in Parliament is that the candidate above her on the Dignity for Disability died before the election, and all his preferences flowed directly to her.  D4D got that seat fair and square.

      Actually, this article just sounds like whining that the major political parties sometimes have to, gasp, negotiate and compromise with people they don’t like, in situations where they get less than half the votes.  The horror!

    • PTom says:

      02:25pm | 06/10/11

      I think all governments in Australia could improve and also that we should change to be more self-determination.

      To me how would independent speakers are obtained? Appointment or vote by the people.
      Sound very much like the republican debate.

      To me a President, Speaker and Governor should be the same person as Head of State (makes the law makers follow the law). While the Premier or Prime Minister would be Head of Government (make the laws).

      I agree with optional preferential voting on both lower and upper houses, this should be for all levels. One level would be local direct representative (lower) the other proportional representative (upper) this should also apply federally scrap the state senate numbers.

      The senate numbers could also be changed to better represent by reducing their number to raise the percentage number to some just over 4%. Both NSW and Federal have too many while SA has about the right level.

    • Peter B says:

      03:01pm | 06/10/11

      Queensland? The Queensland example is the perfect reason not to abolish the upper house. The Bjieke-Petersen government was the most corrupt Australian government in living memory (read up on the Fitzgerald Inquiry), and could not have flourished if there was an upper house to keep it in check.

    • Rick says:

      03:33pm | 06/10/11

      Direct democracy is a way to check political power. It allows benevolent and enlightened citizens to oppose laws made by evil politicians.

      Switzerland’s direct democracy means that all proposed amendments to the constitution are decided by referendum. Any other federal law can be put to a referendum if 50,000 citizens sign a petition - meaning that Switzerland’s federal system can be changed by its citizens.
      Switzerland is a federal republic with a system of direct democracy, in which the ultimate power lies in the hands of the people.

      There is no opposition party, no presidential veto, and no strict party discipline.

      Switzerland has a stable government and a diverse society and everything work like a swiss watch.

      Any takers.

    • Diogenes says:

      03:56pm | 06/10/11

      For those advocating getting rid of the states - who will pay for it and how long do you think that will take ?

      Given it has taken 4 years just to get 3 curricula aligned (eventhough research has shown that the content taught across the country is 99% identical regardless of what the syllabus says) - how long will it take to get criminal laws, driving laws, consumer protection, pay rates for public servants etc etc be aligned

    • Dimas says:

      10:52am | 08/08/12

      Very nicely done!  I wedonr if some of our G+ community might be willing to license animal photos for you to use for future newsletters, if you don’t have time to do some yourself?

 

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