Three jurisdictions in the world use the concept of the single transferable vote (STV) as the basis of their electoral system, Tasmania, Malta and the Republic of Ireland. The Hare-Clark electoral system was the first STV system and has been in operation in Tasmania for over ninety years. It was chosen by the people of Tasmania as the electoral instrument which most closely reflects public opinion and choice. It adoption was controversial and it has remained so. Its defenders see it as the closest that any electoral system has come to pure democracy. Its detractors deride it as encouraging regionalism, party factionalism and unstable government.
This chapter will explore the creation and evolution of the Hare-Clark system by examining how democratic ideas were adopted by significant individuals in a particular socio-political context who were ideologically committed to maximising the participation and representation of the widest possible range of opinions about how they should be governed. It will do so by gathering together the opinions of the foremost writers on the subject and add to them two dimensions previously unexplored: firstly, this author's own work on how women have fared as candidates in Hare-Clark elections; and secondly, what the electors in Australian Hare-Clark systems think of them - the 'people's eye' view.
Ideas, time and people
When Thomas Hare, an English Commissioner of Charities, published his ideas on proportional representation in 1857, Tasmania was a newly self-governing colony. Hare proposed that political representatives should be chosen using a system which maximised the second preferences of voters after their first choice candidate had received enough votes to be elected. In its British context it was designed to minimise corruption and the upper class domination of parliament. These characteristics made it attractive to the liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill and a South Australian woman, Catherine Helen Spence, who used it as the basis for her ideas on 'effective voting', an electoral system which would prevent domination by 'political associations'. Spence spent the next forty years refining and advocating the use of Hare's ideas. In 1896 Andrew Inglis Clark, the Tasmanian Attorney-General, needed an electoral system to overcome corruption, allow equity in representation and the enfranchisement of women. He adapted Hare's system using the Droop formula so that the transfer of votes was systematic rather than random, thereby enabling representation to be directly proportional to numerical strength of votes. Clark did not live to see his ideas translated into action in 1909.
The system continued in Tasmania with minor changes until the idea of rotating positions on ballot papers was proposed by a Member of the House of Assembly, Neil Robson, in 1977. This strengthened the Hare-Clark system against party manipulation of the order of candidates and the effects of 'the donkey vote'. Another unique characteristic is that from 1917 by-elections have not been used under Hare-Clark, with one exception in 1980. It was argued that filling a vacancy due to death or resignation should follow as closely as possible the conditions applying at the time the government of the day was elected. Consequently, there is a `count-back' of the ballot papers to transfer the surplus votes of the departing member and allocate the seat to the next most-preferred candidate. Interestingly enough, given the close results of most Tasmanian elections, a seat filled in such a way has never changed between the two major parties, only between minor parties and the major parties.
Similar electoral systems were chosen for the Lower House in the Republic of Ireland in 1922 and by the British government for Malta in 1927. In 1995 the electors of the Australian Capital Territory by referendum chose Hare-Clark to replace the D'Hondt system which had been imposed on them by the federal government at the time of statehood in 1989.
Outcomes and transitions: Democracy, fairness and equity
Has the system lived up to its promise of broad spectrum representation? What have the outcomes of Hare-Clark system been in Australia? In Tasmania, Herr (1992) argues it has tended to produce governments which reflect not electoral choice, but party domination. This is directly counter to the intentions of its creators. However, it was effective in giving environmentalists in Tasmania the first `Green' parliamentary seats in Australia in the 1970s. This system fairness did not apply to women. This chapter will examine for the first time the fate of women candidates in the Hare-Clark system. It was not until 1955 that women were elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly. Since then, in 14 elections women candidates have been successful in winning only 45 out of a possible 480 seats. Parties continue to fight elections with no women candidates in some electorates.
Citizens love it: Parties hate it
The chapter will also address a recurring theme in the Tasmanian Hare-Clark system - how voters love it and political parties continually advocate its replacement with a system which produces 'strong government'. In the context of the recent 1998 reforms to the House of Assembly, defenders and detractors loudly proclaimed their views and arguments. Tasmanians want fewer politicians but to electors the Hare-Clark system means the capacity to vote for people regardless of party affiliation or how parties think candidates should be rated. Electors cling tenaciously to its original principles of fairness and choice - the people's choice.
Bennett, S. 1995, `"These new-fangled ideas": Hare-Clark 1896-1901', in An Australian Democrat: The Life, Work and Consequences of Andrew Inglis Clark, M. Haward and J. Warden (eds), Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania: 145-162.
Herr, R. 1995, `Hare-Clark: the electoral legacy', in An Australian Democrat: The Life, Work and Consequences of Andrew Inglis Clark, M. Haward and J. Warden (eds), Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania: 181-193.
Jaensch, D. 1997, The Politics of Australia, (2nd edn.) Macmillan, Melbourne.
Mackerras, M. 1995, `The operation and significance of the Hare-Clark system' in An Australian Democrat: The Life, Work and Consequences of Andrew Inglis Clark, M. Haward and J. Warden (eds), Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania: 181-193.
Newman, T. 1992, Hare-Clark in Tasmania: Representation of all Opinion, Government Printing Office, Tasmania.
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