Votes do not have equal value in Australia

Contributed by Glen Davis

If you ask people what they think democracy is, they’ll probably say the right to vote. Most people assume that one’s vote has as much clout as the next persons.’ But this is not really true in Australia.

Take the 2019 Federal election. It’s intriguing checking the votes and the winning of seats in the House of Representatives. People may wonder at the equity of the Greens getting 10.40 percent of the vote, 1,482, 923, for a solitary seat, at the same time as the National Party got 10 seats without 4.51 percent the National Party (excluding the Liberal National’s in Queensland), or 642,233 votes.

Then there’s Bob Katter’s Australia Party with 0.49 percent of the vote, or 69,736, yet a parliamentary seat.

Labor got 50.98 of the votes in 1998 after preferences were allocated. The Liberal National Party got 49.2 percent. It still won the election by picking up 13 more seats in the House of Representatives.

Photo by William West/Getty: Liberal and National parties Coalition lost the votes in 2019 but they won the gerrymander to remain the government

Anomalies like this keep on popping up in the Australian electoral system, and the Liberal and National parties, and their backers, have consistently fought against any change to this.

Theoretically, all seats in the House of Representatives must contain an equal number of electors. The figure often given is 113,000 voters. Does that mean all our votes are equal? Not if the above figures are any guide. Am I missing something here?

In the House of Representatives’, the number of voters enrolled in the states electoral divisions can vary between 3.5 to 10 percent of the average quota. This was worse prior to changes brought in by the Whitlam Government in 1974.  The allowed variation had been 20 percent.

In May 1974 the Whitlam led Australian Labour Party (ALP) government introduced a series of referendums. One of them was about establishing an electoral system where everyone’s vote had equal weight. The issue of rural gerrymanders was a big factor in this.

Instead of seats being based on their geographical size, this was about the actual number of people living in an electorate. The wording for this proposed change was “An Act to alter the Constitution to ensure that the members of the House of Representatives and of the parliaments of the states are chosen directly and democratically by the people.

On May 18, the electorate turned out to vote on the proposed change. Only in one state, New South Wales, did the referendum receive a majority of votes. Nationally, 407,398 more people voted no than yes. This sunk the attempt to bring equal value for voted.

A compromise change was brought about by a joint sitting of both houses. Allowable quota differences were reduced for House of Representative seats. They were not eliminated.

In 1988, the Hawke ALP government again tried to get popular support for a change to They sought an amendment to the Australian constitution to enshrine the one vote, one value for fair elections, through an amendment to the Australian constitution.

Again, rural Gerrymanders such as the Bjelke Peterson regime in Queensland, motivated the desire to provide amore representative electoral system. On September 3, 1988, voters turned out to pass judgement.

Fervent opposition by the Liberal Party, and the National Party kyboshed the attempt. No state got a majority support, with only 37.6 percent of voters supporting it.

This was last attempt to make this change at a federal level.

The problem remains.

Sadly, large rural seats without many people living in them, continue to exercise enormous capacity to distort election results. The National Part, which is the main beneficiary of the gerrymander. Votes cast for its candidates during the 2019 election were worth 20 more than votes cast for others. It was enough to return the Coalition to government.

The gerrymander will be an important factor in the 2022 election.

1 Comment on "Votes do not have equal value in Australia"

  1. Mike Chirgwin | 12 May 2022 at 11:29 pm | Reply

    Fascinating research. Dreadful result on an already broken. Voting system.

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